COVID-19 Update: Continuing our relief efforts in a still-uncertain economy
How we’re coping with long lines and evolving challenges at The Foodbank
By: Caitlyn McIntosh, Development Manager and Emily Gallion, Grant and Advocacy Manager
In our March 20 blog post about COVID-19, posted two days before Governor Mike Dewine’s initial stay-at-home order, we discussed the safety measures we implemented and speculated on the impact of the pandemic on families in our lines. Two months and 3.7 million pounds of food later, it appears we too underestimated the negative impact this virus would have on the food system, our partner agencies, and the families we serve..
If you’ve been following the news, you’ve seen the abrupt and drastic increase in demand we’ve seen here at The Foodbank. Although we knew the COVID-19 crisis would devastate communities in our lines, we could never have prepared for the extent to which it would impact our own operations.
While much has changed since our last blog post, many measures remain in place. We are still not accepting volunteers from the public or food drive donations. While this was an incredibly difficult decision to make, we feel an enormous amount of responsibility because we are at the heart of the charitable food network in three counties. We cannot risk an outbreak at our headquarters.
One thing that has not changed has been the overwhelming demand we are seeing at our distributions. Traffic at our on-site drive thru has reached an all-time high. Last summer, attendance at our Drive Thru set a new record the month after the 2019 Memorial Day tornado outbreak with 3,515 households served. Last month, we served almost double that.
The most dramatic increase we have seen, however, is in the number of individuals accessing food assistance for the first time. Through the month of March, the percent of new households at our Drive Thru increased from less than 10 percent to a high of 68 percent.
To ensure that everyone was able to be served, we made the difficult decision to limit the number of times a household could visit the Drive Thru to once per month. We have never had to limit visits to our Drive Thru in this manner before.
At that time, we were seeing demand steadily increasing at the same time as many of our main sources of food procurement, such as food drives and grocery store donations, dwindled or were stopped completely. Fortunately, we were able to lift that limit this month and are now able to serve people as often as they need to feed their families three healthy meals a day.
While Dayton is our home base, we serve Greene and Preble counties as well. To ensure that everyone in our area is able to access food, we have been organizing mass food distributions in those counties so that individuals who are unable to make it to Dayton can still get the food they need.
We have already held mass distributions in Preble County at Henny Penny and in Greene County at the Wright State Nutter Center. At our Preble County distribution, we served 709 households, about 400 more than we usually see at our annual Preble County mass distribution. At our Greene County distribution, we served 1,381 households, the largest food distribution we have held in our 40 years of service.
When concerns of COVID-19 first started arising, we made the difficult decision to suspend our mobile pantries until further notice. This was extremely hard for us as the mobiles are critical in providing food directly to communities most in need without access to a local food pantry.
As of June 1, we are excited to announce that we are bringing our mobile pantries back! In order to follow Stay Safe Ohio guidelines, we have set some new rules regarding mobiles.
Clients are asked to wear a mask if they have one and stay six feet apart when visiting our locations in order to stay within social distancing guidelines. Additionally, we are limiting pick ups to two households per person. We always suggest bringing your own cart or additional means of carrying potentially heavy items.
The schedule is being released on a month-by-month basis to ensure proper safety precautions are able to be put in place. You can find the schedule at thefoodbankdayton.org/needfood as well as our social media pages.
While we have received a lot of attention for our Drive Thru and Mass Distributions, our primary mission remains the acquisition and distribution of food to our partner agencies. We have been offering expanded Drive Thru hours and mass distributions to supplement the services of our partner agencies, many of which have been forced to close due to the COVID-19 crisis.
At present, only 75 of our 110 partner agencies are still open. The others have been forced to close due to a variety of reasons, such as the closure of their parent organization or concerns for their own volunteers. Because so many of our pantries, hot meal sites, and other partners rely on volunteers who are advanced in age, many of them have had to make the difficult decision to close down operations to protect their own.
Despite these closures, our network is still serving an extremely high number of clients. In April, we served a total of 94,651 individuals. With agency closures taken into consideration, our agencies that are open are serving over twice as many individuals as this time last year.
The uptick in demand coincides with a rise in unemployment as businesses close or pare down operations to prevent the spread of illness and comply with social distancing measures. Over the course of the pandemic, the number of applications for unemployment has reached 10% of the population of Ohio. Local Department of Jobs and Family Services offices have been completely overwhelmed, leading to wait periods in which furloughed and laid off workers are not able to receive benefits.
We’ve known for a long time how many American workers are living precariously close to poverty. According to AARP, over half of US households do not have an emergency savings account. While workers experiencing this delay between their loss of income and unemployment benefits will be eligible for retroactive pay,
The Foodbank recently announced its participation in the USDA Farmers to Families box program. We are excited to participate in this program, which will dramatically increase the amount of food we are able to provide to individuals in our service area.
Farmers to Families is a food box program announced April 19 as part of the Coronavirus Farm Assistance program. Through this program, the USDA will purchase pre packaged boxes of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products for direct distribution to households in our community.
For our part, we will be receiving and distributing 30,000 boxes of food every month through our direct service programs and partner agencies. In total, this will amount to 750,000 pounds of food, or about 625,000 additional meals to people affected by the pandemic.
Where in the world is The Foodbank, Inc.?
We have been incredibly lucky during this time to receive national recognition from several news sources.
The Washington Post: “The next threat: Hunger in America”
ABC News Nightline: “Inside 2 massive food banks feeding families affected by COVID-19”
Dayton Daily News: “Coronavirus: Thousands show up for Greene County food distribution”