Emergency Food Bank Structures
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting a tremendous strain on food banks. Across the nation, organizations are struggling to feed individuals and families in need – during a time when more people need these services. Job losses and disruptions, school closures, and lack of paid sick leave have all increased the demands placed on food banks.
“Not in my lifetime has there been a precedent for this,” Catherine D’Amato, Chief Executive of the Greater Boston Food Bank, said to the Washington Post. “We know how to respond to fires, earthquakes, floods. There isn’t a playbook for this.”
Food banks rely on donations of food and money to fulfill their services. Many of those food donations come from grocery stores that send unsold produce and items nearing their expiration date. However, fears of the looming COVID-19 pandemic caused a shopping panic that left grocery store shelves bereft of many essential fresh, canned, and paper goods. Several of those products are the exact items that would have been sent to food banks. Those stores are now struggling to restock those shelves, which has further shifted the focus away from food bank donations.
Food banks also rely on donations from individuals and corporations. However, contributions from both of those sources have decreased. Many of the goods that individuals donate include canned goods and pasta – the exact items they swept from the shelves and are now stockpiling. Corporations and businesses that primarily gave monetary to food banks have faced closures and lost profits due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders decreasing their ability for charitable donations.
All of these factors are occurring as food banks face increased demand. The closure of “nonessential” businesses has forced many individuals and families who live month-to-month to turn to food banks to survive.
“At a typical distribution [before coronavirus], we can do anywhere between 200 and 300 families,” Dr. Valerie Hawthorne, the Director of Government Relations at North Texas Food Bank, said to D Magazine. “We are doing distributions now in the 800 to 1,500 range.”
“In a month, I would serve maybe 60 to 80 [clients]—now I’m serving 180 a week,” Debbie Solis, Director of Family and Community Service for Voice of Hope, was quoted in the same story.
D Magazine cites an incident at Bowman Middle School in Plano, TX, where cars lined up around the block waiting for a 27-pound box of nonperishable food. National Guardsmen working with North Texas Food Bank handed out nearly 1,250 boxes, which is almost 34,000 pounds of food. Unfortunately, the food ran out before the cars, and they had to turn people away.
“The thing is, is that we are a food bank. So, we have a bank of reserves,” said Dr. Hawthorne. “We are using those resources right now. However, it’s rapidly depleting. So, that has been our plea to the community – that to continue a level of service that’s necessary now, we really need food and funds.”
As crucial as food distributions are, food collections are likely to become equally important very soon. It is also possible that, as grocery store shelves become restocked (early signs are that some stores no longer ration the purchases of certain products), consumers who bought piles of canned goods may realize they do not need 32 pounds of canned green beans.
However, people are afraid, and it is difficult to encourage giving when people are worried about overwhelming world events. Informing communities about the immediate needs of their neighbors, like the hungry families who lined up at Bowman Middle School, personalizes those in need and can encourage giving.
Heading into neighborhoods for food drives can be an effective way to motivate folks to donate some of those hoarded canned goods to help their neighbors in need. Typically, these drives are set up in a parking lot, and workers and volunteers camp under an open-sided tent to avoid some weather. Another option is to use an enclosed structure, like the Express Portable A, that will protect workers in a climate-controlled environment. Also, because interactions occur through a hinge-up widow, the Express Portable A can help with social distancing since there is a physical barrier between workers and the public.
School closings have also increased the strain on food banks. During the school year, about 22 million children nationwide rely on free and reduced lunch and breakfast programs. Several school districts have pledged to maintain these programs even while schools are closed. However, for some, keeping that pledge has been difficult. For example, in Houston, TX, the school district had to suspend its federally assisted meal program for more than a week after a worker was exposed to COVID-19.
“People were going hungry even before this. Now with children out of school, more food is needed,” Viola Jones, whose children utilize the Houston school district’s lunch program, said to the New York Times. “Living from paycheck to paycheck before this was already hard. Now it’s even harder. People have to make a decision: Do I buy food? Do I pay rent?”
Many school districts need help from volunteers to ensure that all meals make it to the students who need them the most. Again, a structure like the Express Portable A could help facilitate meal delivery while keeping workers, volunteers, and families safe.
During these trying times, if you have the means and ability, please consider donating or volunteering to your local food bank. There are residents in your community who need help now more than ever. Also, if you would like to learn more about the versatile Express Portable A, call Event Architecture at 972-323-9433.