COVID-19 Update: Continuing our relief efforts in a still-uncertain economy

 

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.

In the month of April, we served a total of 6,912 households — 19,498 individuals — at our on-site Drive Thru food pantry.

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.

 

Mobile Pantries

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.

 

Partner Agencies

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.

Agencies that remain open are serving an average of 1,262 individuals a month, over twice as many 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,

 

Up next

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.

Through the Farmers to Families Food Box program, the USDA will authorize purchases of up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat.

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 Ellen DeGeneres Show: https://www.ellentube.com/video/allison-janney-goes-digging-in-drawer-dash.html?fbclid=IwAR1nl7iVicJJ9azy5eN6QT8fWwFC24u65JHVuL9f8sAIp6SaP7kxm_teeGY

The Washington Post:The next threat: Hunger in America

TIME: “’It’s a Bucket Brigade on a 5-Alarm Fire.’ Food Banks Struggle to Keep Up With Skyrocketing Demand”

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


Foodbanking in the time of COVID-19

Foodbanking in the time of COVID-19

Pandemics disproportionately affect the people in our lines. Here’s what we’re doing to help.

By: Caitlyn McIntosh, Development Manager, and Emily Gallion, Grant and Advocacy Manager

Last week, concerns about COVID-19, a form of coronavirus, reached a fever pitch as the Ohio Department of Health announced the state’s first three positive cases. Since then, efforts to contain the pandemic led to school closings, orders to limit public gatherings, and even the suspension of voting in the state of Ohio. 

For weeks, the health and well-being of our clients, staff, and volunteers has been at the forefront of our minds as we monitor the spread of this pandemic. We have had to make very difficult choices to suspend or modify many of our offsite services, but we are making every possible effort to make sure our clients have access to the food they need.

In these trying times, we would like to commend the leadership of Governor Mike DeWine, who has made strong moves to limit the spread of the virus. Many early actions, including the closures of schools, bars, and restaurants, have provided a model for other states trying to respond to the epidemic. We are glad to see our leaders taking this virus seriously.

Background on COVID-19

COVID-19 is a form of coronavirus, a family of viruses that are zoonotic, or transmitted between animals and people. Coronaviruses have been responsible for deadly outbreaks in the past, including MERS and SARS, but COVID-19 is a new strand thought to have originated from bats. Many initial infections were traced to a large market in Wuhan, China.

Seniors and people with pre-existing conditions are at a heightened risk of becoming seriously ill as a result of this disease, but people of any age can become sick with or transmit the virus. According to the CDC, early data suggests that seniors are twice as likely to have a serious illness because of the virus.

This reality became chillingly clear when COVID-19 swept through a nursing home in a Seattle suburb, causing the deaths of 18 residents. Older adults are at an increased risk due to weakened immune systems and the increased likelihood of pre-existing conditions. The National Council on Aging stated that “age increases the risk that the respiratory system or lungs will shut down when an older person has COVID-19 disease.”

Families with small children can take comfort in the fact that, unlike influenza, COVID-19 does not seem to cause a serious threat to children. In fact, children and young adults are more likely to carry the disease with no symptoms at all. However, these populations should still take part in healthy practices as they could transmit it to someone else who may not have a strong immune system.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to that of the flu virus and the common cold. Both viruses are potentially dangerous to high-risk populations, and individuals who experience difficulty breathing should seek emergency treatment regardless of known COVID-19 exposure.

What does this mean for people in our lines?

One risk factor for the disease may not be immediately apparent: Analysis of past disease outbreaks, such as influenza, reveals that pandemics often disproportionately affect people who are living in poverty. 

One study of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak found that, in Oaklahoma, 26 percent of white individuals who contracted the virus needed hospitalization, compared to 55 percent of black patients and 37 percent of indigenous patients. 

In many ways, this is common sense: People with low incomes are more likely to work part-time jobs that do not offer benefits such as paid sick leave and healthcare. People living in poverty and people of color are also more likely to live in areas with high population density, which increases the likelihood that they will be infected.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than one third of private-sector employees in the lowest wage category have access to paid sick leave

Luckily, employees whose employment is affected by the outbreak may be eligible for additional unemployment relief. This will be especially important for employees of the restaurants, gyms, bars, and other businesses that have been ordered to close. 

Workers who are required to self-isolate will be eligible for unemployment benefits even if they do not test positive for the virus. Many restrictions on unemployment benefits, including the usual waiting period for benefits to kick in, have also been waived.

Workers who need to apply for unemployment benefits can file online at unemployment.ohio.gov

This pandemic is a stark reminder that almost half of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, which means a loss of income due to quarantines or business closures can be catastrophic. It also decreases these households’ ability to stockpile food, water, and other necessities.

School closures are also incredibly disruptive to families’ day to day life, as workers who cannot afford childcare may be forced to stay home. Closing schools can also impact children’s cognitive development at an extremely crucial stage in life.

Encouragingly, many school districts have already begun to offer carryout school meals. Governor Mike DeWine confirmed on March 13 that the United States Department of Agriculture approved Ohio’s waiver to allow carryout meals in school.

So, what are we doing about all of this?

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, it may be difficult trying to follow the constant news updates and safety precautions. At The Foodbank, people are the most important resource, so it is our duty to ensure that we are serving our vulnerable populations in the safest way possible. 

Unfortunately, the spread of COVID-19 has a tremendous impact both on the population we serve and our own operations.

Due to Governor Mike DeWine’s orders of limiting public gatherings to less than 100 people, we had to make the difficult decision to cancel our mobile food pantries for the time being. Clients are actively being guided towards our weekly drive thru pantries.

To meet any additional needs due to the cancellation of our mobiles, we have expanded our drive thru operations to running three times a week. Additionally, we moved to serving families once a month in effort to keep up with high demand. 

Since the outbreak of the virus, our drive thru went from serving an average of 350 families per day to over 400 per day. As news changes by the day, we are always looking for ways to update our services with the community’s safety in mind.

We have made the decision to target low-income seniors with this box program because they are the population at highest risk for death or serious illness as a result of this virus. We also know that many of our seniors are homebound or on a fixed income, which makes it more difficult for them to visit the supermarket or stockpile emergency supplies. 

Because we have had to suspend offsite distributions of our CSFP boxes, we have added additional drive thru distributions to serve those clients directly at our warehouse. Seniors enrolled in the program can visit our drive thru March 24 or March 26 between the hours of 9 am and 3 pm to pick up both their senior food boxes and their additional COVID-19 emergency boxes.

If you are looking for a way to help out, The Foodbank is still actively seeking volunteers. We currently have an increased need due to high demand in the drive thru and the volume of emergency boxes we are trying to package.

If you want to volunteer at The Foodbank, please make an appointment prior by calling (937) 461-0265 x31. We are enacting several safety measures to protect our volunteers, staff, and clients, including:

  • Limiting walk-in traffic to The Foodbank by locking our doors
  • Taking the temperature of all volunteers and staff who enter our building
  • Requiring all volunteers to wash their hands prior to the start of their shift
  • Asking volunteers and staff not to bring outside food into the building
  • Asking any volunteers over the age of 60 to stay home

Thank you donors!

It is always heartening to see our community come together at difficult times such as that. We would like to extend our thanks to the people who have volunteered or donated in the past several weeks. In times like this, every little bit counts.

We would especially like to thank Caresource, who committed $128,000 in funding to provide additional food boxes to our at-risk seniors currently enrolled in our CSFP program. This funding will be used to prepare 1,200 boxes, each of which will contain enough food to last 14 days. We hope these boxes, which we are currently building and distribute, will help this high-risk population practice social distancing in the coming weeks.

To follow along with The Foodbank’s response efforts, follow us on our social media channels @thefoodbankinc and our website for further updates.