Food banks deal with spike in demand

  • Press photo/Linda Mathias - MANNA’s mobile food bank ran out of food on March 23 due to high demand.
    Press photo/Linda Mathias - MANNA’s mobile food bank ran out of food on March 23 due to high demand.

Hunger can’t take a sick day, and neither can many Macon County residents who depend on food supplements.

As businesses around the country shut down to increase social distance, food banks are faced with some difficult choices to make. While they need to take the necessary steps to ensure safe conditions for employees and beneficiaries, communities depend on them too much for them to suspend services for an indefinite period. 

At MANNA Food Bank, communications director Kara Irani said that the need the bank sees is even greater than usual and that the bank will do whatever it can to meet that demand.

“It is incredibly important for us to keep operating right now,” Irani said. “The need for food in our region is already pronounced, even before the COVID-19 emergency. Now, more than ever, with kids out of school and workers’ hours being reduced or even cut, we know that families across the region will be struggling even more.”

Things do have to change in the way that banks distribute food, however. MANNA is adopting a new drive-through system of distribution that minimizes physical contact by prepackaging boxes of food instead of letting beneficiaries shop through their supplies supermarket style. 

That approach was used at their mobile food bank in the K-mart parking lot on March 23, and workers said it was a big success.

“It’s nice that we can find alternative ways like this to serve the community,” said Bridgett Curtis of the Macon Program for Progress.

However, the mobile market also exposed just how much bigger the need is getting in the wake of the pandemic. When MPP and MANNA organizers arrived at the parking lot to set up on that Monday morning, there was already a massive line accumulating. The organizers started giving out food at 12:30 p.m. to start getting through the line and ran out before the originally planned 2 p.m. start time, even after reducing the number of boxes distributed per family.

“It was a very heavy volume,” Curtis said. “The most we’ve ever seen. People are getting very desperate right now.”

Fortunately, there are other options for getting food during a crisis. CareNet has also taken on a minimal contact approach by prepackaging food and handing it out the window of their building rather than bringing patrons inside. Employees and volunteers are also taking care to sanitize and disinfect the entire interior of their property to reduce future risks.

“With everything that’s going on, we want to make sure we provide a safe and healthy environment for both our staff and our clients,” CareNet director Tim Hogsed said.

Hogsed agreed that demand has gone up significantly in the wake of the pandemic, but he also said that donations are continuing to come in at a generous clip. CareNet was able to distribute 32,525 pounds of food to 890 households in the first two months of 2020. As long as the spirit of community stays strong in Macon County, he’s confident that there will be plenty of food to go around.

“We are here for everybody who needs us,” Hogsed said. “If you’re experiencing any kind of hardship, just come on by.”

MANNA Food Bank’s next mobile market in Franklin is scheduled for Monday, April 27 at the Kmart parking lot.