Katie Fitzgerald, chief operating officer for Feeding America, a nationwide association of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, calls the economic hardship wrought by the coronavirus pandemic a “perfect storm.” Due to widespread layoffs across industries small and large, more people are without money to buy food, and are finding themselves in a position of having to use a food pantry.
With the restaurant industry all but shuttered, they are no longer donating to pantries, which was a huge source of their food. Similarly, food from farms is being redirected to grocery stores, whose shelves are oftentimes laid bare almost as soon as they’re stocked.
Regardless of the dwindling supply, demand has spiked. Feeding America, for example, reports a 95 percent increase in demand for its food supplies.
Similarly, GraceWorks President and CEO Valencia A. Breckenridge said that roughly half of its customers of late have been new customers.
Nashville mom Brooklyn Dotson is one of those new GraceWorks customers. With her own food and money supplies both dwindling, she gathered up what money she could and drove 35 miles to a GraceWorks food bank in nearby Franklin.
“I don’t have any income coming in, I don’t get any food stamps, so it’s just hard to get any help right now,” she said.
In California, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank has had to completely restructure the way it distributes food due to the coronavirus pandemic. Its 275 facilities in the region are keeping longer hours to keep up with increased demand, and are using open spaces such as parking lots as distribution centers to comply with social distancing requirements.
A similar scene is playing out in Oklahoma, which was the hungriest state in the country even before the pandemic. Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma spokeswoman Cathy Nestlen said that her operation, which is a distribution center for member sites, has had to add a day to their workweek due to demand, and may yet have work seven days in the future.
“This pandemic on top of it just shines a light on how so many households, not just in Oklahoma but around the country, live paycheck to paycheck,” she said.
Meanwhile, some relief is in sight.
Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos has pledged $100 million to help food banks, and some of that money has begun trickling in. Similarly, the recently-passed coronavirus stimulus package included money for food aid, although Fitzgerald says it could be months before any of that money crosses her desk.