WebMD News Brief

Food Banks Facing Shortages Due to Coronavirus

photo of canned soup

March 23, 2020 -- As people in COVID-19 hot spots prepare for self-quarantine, they stock up on shelf-stable foods and other goods. Photos of empty supermarket shelves are commonplace. But even as those who can afford it go shopping, food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens -- crucial support for the most vulnerable Americans -- face extreme shortages.

There are two problems: Retail stores make up a large part of donations to food banks. In 2016, they donated 1.4 billion pounds. But as retailers rush to keep their shelves stocked and sanitized, those donations have dropped off steeply, reported TheWashington Post.

“Not in my lifetime has there been a precedent for this,” Catherine D’Amato, chief executive officer of the Greater Boston Food Bank, which is servicing two coronavirus hot spots, Boston and Pittsfield, MA, told ThePost. “We know how to respond to fires, earthquakes, floods. There isn’t a playbook for this.”

And at the same time as donations are dwindling, so are volunteers. Some cancel shifts in order to practice social distancing, while others worry they may have the new coronavirus themselves. Corporate volunteer programs have been canceled to ease COVID-19 concerns. Without workers to help donations reach those who need them, the supply chain breaks down.

“We’re going into the epidemic with the assumption there will be increased need, and many of the nearly 700 food pantries [in the area] will likely temporarily cease to distribute,” Erin Pulling, CEO of the Food Bank of the Rockies, told The ColoradoSun. “Many operate with volunteers only, very part-time, and many are staffed by volunteers who are representative of more vulnerable communities, often older adults.”

Even before COVID-19, more than 37 million Americans, including 11 million children, faced hunger. Now, as jobs are disrupted and schools close, more people will need donated food.

In response to the higher need and decreased supply, Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization, has established a COVID-19 Response Fund to help food banks across the country.

“Our member food banks are always there to help throughout the year and in times of disaster. This fund will advance their ability to respond efficiently and effectively in their communities so that food is not added to the list of worries for families during this pandemic,” said Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot. “We cannot do it alone.”

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 23, 2020

Sources

Feeding America: “New Business Feeds the Need,” “Feeding America Establishes COVID-19 Response Fund to Help Food Banks During the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

The Washington Post: “Food banks are seeing volunteers disappear and supplies evaporate as coronavirus fears mount.”

The Colorado Sun: “At a time they’re needed most, Colorado food banks brace for fewer volunteers, shutdown of smaller pantries amid coronavirus fears.”

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