How our Drive Thru Food Pantry became critical to our disaster relief strategy

 How our Drive Thru Food Pantry became critical to our disaster relief strategy

During the pandemic, our Drive Thru has provided a low-contact way for us to offset increased need and partner agency closures

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

JoAnn, who has been visiting The Foodbank’s Drive Thru Food Pantry for two years, says receiving food has helped her stretch her budget and avoid grocery shopping. She has been saving money after being the victim of identity theft earlier this year.

“I didn’t even get my social security check, she said. “I probably would’ve gotten evicted. I didn’t have enough to pay.”

JoAnn, a senior enrolled in our Commodity Supplemental Food Program, is one of over 100,000 people served in our Drive Thru in 2020. The Drive Thru has seen unprecedented numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When our Drive Thru pantry was constructed in 2018, it began as an accessible means for our seniors to pick up their monthly Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP/Senior Box) boxes without having to get out of their car. 

While its purpose has evolved since then, the Drive Thru is still open Thursdays for seniors who are enrolled in the program to pick up their boxes. As this is a federal program administered by The Foodbank, these distributions are not open to the general public. To see if you qualify, visit www.thefoodbankdayton.org/needfood.

The Foodbank’s Drive Thru Food Pantry is funded with the generous support of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy and the Dayton Power & Light Foundation.

The Turning Point

The value of the Drive Thru as a disaster relief tool first became apparent after 15 tornadoes ripped through the Dayton area, displacing thousands of people and causing widespread property damage. Over 4,000 people applied for federal disaster assistance in Montgomery County.

Strikingly, the storm hit areas already affected by poverty. In Trotwood, where at least 1,800 residents of an apartment complex were displaced, over 25% of the population lives below the poverty line. At least 750 homes in Trotwood were still vacant as of November 2020.

The day after the storm, we were able to immediately open the Drive Thru to provide aid to people affected. It became a one-stop-shop for people to both drop off donations and pick up the supplies and food they needed. This is where we really started to see the Drive Thru’s potential in supporting our disaster relief efforts.

In the month of June 2019, immediately following the storm, we were able to keep our Drive Thru open five days a week to meet the increased need in our area. We served a total of 9,085 people that month.

A New Type of Disaster

Unknown to us, the tornado outbreak would prove to be a trial run to a more widespread crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When food insecurity rates jumped due to the pandemic, we were able to expand the days our Drive Thru was open to four days per week. These distributions are naturally low-contact and easy to adapt to emergency needs. 

Because the Drive Thru is attached to our warehouse, we need minimal notice to host a food distribution. This was especially critical at the height of the pandemic as only 70 of our 116 partner agencies remained open and serving food. 

We also learned an important lesson about our Drive Thru. While the Drive Thru is intended to supplement the hard work of our partner agencies, people experiencing food insecurity for the first time often come directly to us. Where appropriate, we encourage our direct service clients to call our emergency hotline to be referred to a local pantry that can better serve their needs.

Due to this tendency, the percent of households that were visiting a Foodbank program for the first time was upwards of 70% at some of our Drive Thru distributions.

Drive Thru attendance is still higher than it was this time last year. Note: 2019 increases from June to August are due to the Memorial Day tornado outbreak

Currently, our Drive Thru is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 1-3 pm. As our hours are subject to change, especially during holidays please refer to www.thefoodbankdayton.org/needfood.

If you wish to visit our Drive Thru, please bring a photo ID and understand that you must be living at or below 200% of the federal poverty limit (230% during COVID) to receive food. The most up-to-date eligibility guidelines can be found at the bottom of this page.

Our Drive Thru has proven time and time again to be our most reliable means of getting food on the tables of our community. It has allowed us to provide a sense of security and reliability to families during tornadoes, a pandemic, and everyday emergencies like a higher than usual heat bill.