Food Banks Struggle with Rising Demand for Food

Food Bank - Staffs Live - Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

With a pandemic sweeping the nation, thousands of workplaces have been closed down, leaving millions laid off and jobless. With their primary source of income shut off and many utilities shut down, many people are left uncertain of their present and future. Many struggle with unstable living situations and others find themselves unsure if they’re going to be able to keep food on the table.

With more and more people struggling to make ends meet, food banks fight against the unforeseen damages of COVD-19. As an essential service, they continue to provide food to those in need, even with the virus raging outside. Yet, despite their crucial role, many food banks find themselves struggling as well. Between coping with increased demand, lack of volunteers and enacting measures against the spread of COVID-19, food banks have plenty of concerns.

Firstly, the demand for food is steadily climbing. With unemployment shooting upwards in the wake of workplace closures, more and more people need the meals food banks provide. “Since starting our COVID-19 response,” Rebecca Rice, the Community and Social Services manager of the Issaquah Food Bank, said, “14 percent of the people we served in two weeks were new.” Compared to 2019 statistics, with an average of 3.5 percent of new clients, demand has drastically increased.

Next, with the majority of people in self-isolation, many afraid to leave the house, food banks may find themselves short of volunteers. “We have been very lucky to have plenty of volunteers who are still willing to come in and help—both long time IFCB volunteers and brand new volunteers,” Rice said. However, “Just in the past couple of days though, we have seen a bit of a drop off in volunteers during our distribution hours, when we’re serving clients.”

However, COVID-19 creates a variety of other problems. “It has been challenging for us to purchase food in the quantities we need. For example, it’s very hard to buy chili in large amounts from Costco right now!” Rice explained. “Another challenge has been that we split our staff into two teams to avoid cross-contamination. We are already a small team, so not being together to support each other through all the changes and stress has been really hard.”

Additionally, food banks, like all services, need to enact measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The food bank is careful to sanitize most surfaces before and after shifts, maintain social distancing standards, and require that volunteers wear masks and gloves. In addition, “We have a very limited number of staff and volunteers in the building at a time to prevent crowding and extra exposure,” Rice explained. “From the food distribution side, we have shut down our Food and Clothing Banks, and we are only doing a drive up (or walk-up) service outside our building. Clients stay in their cars, and volunteers put food boxes and produce bags into their cars.”

So, how are food banks coping with these challenges? “The Amazon and grocery deliveries have been very helpful in us keeping our supply up. Mike, our Food Bank Manager, has been extremely organized and on top of managing our inventory and knowing what items we have available to use,” Rice explained. “And just communicating with donors about our needs and clients about what we have available—everyone has been very understanding, patient, and accommodating.”

With everything that’s been going on, the service that food banks provide is more crucial than ever. In such turbulent times, it’s more important than ever to help each other. If you or anyone you know is interested in supporting the IFCB, donations from the “emergency needs list” on their website can be ordered and shipped directly to them. They also accept financial contributions and have volunteer sign-ups on their website. In addition to the IFCB, other food banks in your area need aid. “It’s obvious our community is very invested in helping IFCB be successful during the COVID-19 outbreak, which is really wonderful to see,” Rice commented. “I feel lucky to work here and be a part of it!”