‘Unprecedented’: Bay Area food banks struggle to meet demand amid coronavirus shutdown
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‘Unprecedented’: Bay Space meals banks wrestle to fulfill demand amid coronavirus shutdown

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When dozens of determined individuals started exhibiting up at its warehouse — which isn’t a meals distribution heart — the Alameda County Group Meals Financial institution realized that the coronavirus pandemic and widespread layoffs have been inflicting a starvation disaster.

“It was a telling second once we realized we would have liked to readjust in actual time,” stated Mike Altfest, director of neighborhood engagement and advertising. “We’re seeing an unprecedented surge in demand.”

The company scrambled to open up a brand new drive-through distribution heart close by the place households might drive up, pop their trunks and have groceries loaded inside. It began March 30 serving about 30 households. Inside 10 days, that was as much as 470 households with automobiles weaving round an enormous parking zone. On Friday, a staggering 743 automobiles confirmed up.

All through the Bay Space, meals banks — nonprofits that distribute free groceries to these in want, usually through social service companies — inform related tales of being inundated with pressing requests from individuals who’ve misplaced their incomes through the shutdown that has left not less than 2.four million Californians newly unemployed. The overwhelming majority of job loss occurred amongst lower-income individuals — lodge housekeepers, cooks, waiters, janitors, cabbies, well being aides, day care staff and others who usually reside paycheck to paycheck.

“It offers you chills interested by how deep the starvation is now,” stated Andrew Cheyne, director of presidency affairs for the California Affiliation of Meals Banks.

Many within the present surge had not beforehand sought assist to maintain meals on their tables.

“We’ve seen the emergence of a brand new inhabitants that has by no means earlier than relied on meals banks,” stated Cassidie Carmen Bates, coverage and advocacy supervisor for the Meals Financial institution of Contra Costa & Solano. “Circumstances have made it inconceivable for many individuals to offer the meals their household wants.”

Volunteers distribute food boxes to residents in need at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in San Rafael.

The Redwood Empire Meals Financial institution, which serves 5 counties from Sonoma to the Oregon border, is listening to from many individuals who “don’t even know what a meals financial institution is,” stated Lisa Cannon, director of improvement. “They simply heard that they’ll come right here for meals.”

What prompted them to name? The reply is easy.

“Job loss,” she stated. “A number of job loss.”

Meals banks are responding by including new pop-up pantries; creating drive-through websites; boxing up meals so it may be handed out whereas sustaining the space below well being orders; assembling emergency kits of staples; extending their distribution hours; and roping within the Nationwide Guard for help of their warehouses. However cash, meals and volunteers are all briefly provide, exacerbating the crunch.

“I’ve been doing this work for greater than 20 years and I’ve by no means seen something like this,” stated Leslie Bacho, CEO of Second Harvest of Silicon Valley Meals Financial institution, which serves San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. “Our hotline used to deal with about 180 calls a day; now there are 1,200 a day from people who find themselves lately unemployed and are so frightened. There’s a lot anxiousness proper now.”

A Second Harvest associate’s drive-through distribution heart at a close-by church is now serving 1,200 households a day, up from 400 earlier than the disaster. So many automobiles got here for the Wednesday and Thursday meals giveaways that the police needed to intervene as a result of they have been blocking site visitors, she stated. The positioning hopes so as to add a neighboring parking zone to ease the jam.

Meals banks usually distribute groceries via neighborhood teams equivalent to youth golf equipment, church buildings, synagogues or senior facilities. A lot of these meals pantries needed to shut as a result of their areas have been shuttered, they wanted to look at social distancing, volunteers have been cloistered at house, or they take care of susceptible populations equivalent to seniors.

That’s led to some artistic new methods. Nearly each meals financial institution is organising new distribution websites, generally tag-teaming with the every day free meal distributions for low-income college students provided at many colleges.

Volunteers moves boxes of food.

The San Francisco-Marin Meals Financial institution created a program known as Pantry at Residence to ship on to 7,000 homebound seniors who used to go to its pantries for groceries.

“Our aim is to get to 12,000,” stated Katy McKnight, director of neighborhood engagement. “It’s inspiring to see how shortly we acquired nimble to adapt our operations to serve our neighborhood.”

Meals banks are adapting in different methods too. They’re aware of social distancing, each of their warehouses and when distributing meals.

Quite than letting purchasers “store” for groceries, the banks now preassemble separate containers of produce, shelf-stable objects and refrigerated meals that may be handed out extra merely.

Drive-through distributions to reduce direct contact have additionally turn into frequent all through Bay Space meals distribution websites — though that may result in blocks-long queues of automobiles.

Cities are stepping up, too. San Francisco on Monday stated it’s going to lend metropolis workers to meals banks and create a useful resource web page on a metropolis web site about meals entry for its residents.

Meals banks and their pantry companions distribute meals with out asking many questions, aside from just a few fundamentals equivalent to ZIP code and family measurement. They don’t ask about immigration standing, as an example. The meals banks additionally assist purchasers enroll with CalFresh, the state’s model of meals stamps, which requires extra paperwork however has loosened many necessities for the second because it faces a historic spike in purposes.

It’s not simply meals that cash-strapped individuals want.

SupplyBank.org acts like a meals financial institution for non-edible requirements — diapers, tampons and sanitary pads, and college provides, as an example — which it gives to neighborhood teams statewide to distribute.

“We’ve by no means been as busy as we’re as we speak,” stated Benito Delgado-Olson, government director.

A volunteer wears a face mask and gloves while sorting lettuce.

The Oakland group has elevated distribution of college provides for college kids now finding out at house, in addition to diapers and wipes, that are costly and never one thing households can forgo. It’s seeing far more demand for liquid cleaning soap, disinfectant wipes and cleansing provides. And, after all, rest room paper, which panic customers have snatched from retailer cabinets nationwide.

“Till two months in the past, rest room paper was one thing everyone might get pretty simply” so SupplyBank didn’t present it, Delgado-Olson stated. However now, with that important commodity usually offered out, he feels fortunate to have discovered two producers who can provide it instantly.

All meals banks acknowledge that the present state of affairs is more likely to final for months if not longer.

“For the populations we serve, people who find themselves most susceptible, it’s not like shelter in place will finish and everyone will simply bounce again,” stated Second Harvest’s Bacho. “We serve of us who don’t have loads of cushion. It would take longer for households to get better from this financial hardship.”

Carolyn Stated is a San Francisco Chronicle employees author. Electronic mail: csaid@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @csaid

Bay Space meals banks

Meals banks assist anybody in want, asking only some fundamental questions on ZIP code and family measurement. They like that new purchasers name their hotlines or go to their web sites for preliminary consumption and discover one of the best distribution website for them.

Alameda County Group Meals Financial institution www.accfb.org

Group Motion of Napa Valley Meals Financial institution www.canv.org

Meals Financial institution of Contra Costa & Solano www.foodbankccs.org

Redwood Empire Meals Financial institution www.refb.org

San Francisco-Marin Meals Financial institution www.sfmfoodbank.org

Second Harvest of Silicon Valley www.shfb.org