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Feed the Love: How to help food banks on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis

Updated: April 09, 2020 11:44 AM

DULUTH, Minn. (WDIO/ABC) – The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 400,000 people and killed at least 13,000 in the United States so far.

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Another serious consequence of the outbreak: food insecurity.

With sky-rocketing unemployment and millions of children unable to receive free or reduced-price school lunches, more people are now facing hunger because of this crisis, according to Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank in Duluth.

Shaye Moris, Executive Director for Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, says they are seeing a big increase in demand for its services.  In addition, they are also seeing that during this crisis, many families will find themselves needing help for the first time.

This week, Second Harvest served a record 523 people, Moris said.  Of those, 38% were new visitors.

"A lot of people who are coming in are new and this is a whole new experience for them that they haven't needed help before," said Dan Wilson, Program Director for Second Harvest northern Lakes Food Bank.  "I just want to say that it's OK to receive help. we're going to get through this if we keep doing this together.  We have a whole network of food pantries across the Northland that are open and willing to serve."

According to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., approximately 37 million people are food insecure, including 11 million children and 5.5 million seniors.

“I’ve never witnessed a system being more strained,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “Our estimations are that we will need to serve an additional 17.1 million people through this crisis, on top of an already 37-40 million people that we were serving before.”

Due to this crisis, WDIO and ABC is launching #FeedTheLove to highlight food banks and food pantry personnel working on the front lines, and to share food resources with all Americans who need it.

On the front lines at food banks

Across the country, determined volunteers are urgently responding to the demand at food banks by making sure people don’t go hungry. But as the demand has increased, supplies are dwindling and volunteers are scarce in some communities.

Lloyd Vines, a senior volunteer coordinator at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, says his staff has shrunk in size since the pandemic hit.

Yet no matter how hectic it’s been, Vines and many committed volunteers like him are still staying positive.

"We’re so tired," he said, "but our spirits are high.”

Volunteering on the front lines during the pandemic comes with an increased risk of contracting the virus. It’s something that many volunteers are aware of and are taking precautions against -- but it hasn’t stopped them from continuing their critical work.

"All of our local food shelves have gone to a low-contact curbside distribution which is safe," said Shaye Moris with the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. "We're wiping down handles and trunks. We're making sure that volunteers keep distance when they're putting food in people's cars.  So it really is a very safe environment for people to get assistance." 

Despite the risk, the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank and many others across the country are continuing their mission to make sure no one goes hungry during this pandemic.

"It seems like things are changing day by day with this food situation," said Dan Wilson, Program Director with Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank.  "I mean we have shifted everything since shelter in place came about and we are now pre-packing all those boxes which is something we weren't doing as much focus on perishables. But right now, we're kind of contingency planning with food shelves making sure they have enough for today." 

Feeding the love

Feeding America has taken steps during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure no one goes hungry by providing resources for all Americans.

Among their efforts so far, Feeding America has launched the COVID-19 Response Fund, a national food and fundraising effort to support people facing hunger and the food banks who help them; they have worked with government leaders to ensure their emergency response to the coronavirus includes strong support and flexibility for federal nutrition programs; and they have provided emergency grants to food banks to support local response efforts.

Other ways to help

Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank says there many ways to help those in need during this time:

  • Check in with neighbors, friends, and families that may be in need of food.
  • Shop responsibly, don’t hoard.
  • If you need help, get help. In addition to food banks, Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank's website can link you with other resources.
  • If you can, give monetary donations.
  • Find out how to deliver food safely to a local food bank or donate money here. Call your local food bank first to find out what their food donation policy is right now.

"It's amazing to see what's happening in the Northland," says Moris. "With our financial donations, we're getting the nicest messages like 'thanks for the great work you're doing helping us feed our neighbors.' So it's really the outpouring of support has been wonderful."

She added, "We see this as more of a marathon than a sprint. So we're just hoping people just stick with us for the next several months if that's what it takes." 

Copyright 2020 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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