Food banks all around the nation have seen a dramatic increase in families visiting since the pandemic began and they expect an even bigger increase throughout the holidays. This time of year is already the busiest time of year for them and, with the unfortunate twist of COVID-19, this holiday season will be quite the mission to complete.
There are more than one million people who are currently hungry in the state of Georgia and, out of that number, roughly 400,000 of them are children. That time of year has finally arrived and many area food banks and community food pantries are gearing up for the bustling holiday season.
“We have seen a huge uptake in the number of people reaching out in need of food,” explained Heather Moon, who serves as the public relations manager of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. “We update the specifics for every month and have seen about a 300 percent increase in people reaching out since the pandemic hit.
“From month to month, we are distributing 40-60 percent more food than this time last year, making this October record-breaking,” she added. “We have distributed 12 million pounds of food which is equivalent to about 10 million meals. Our team has been working tirelessly at getting food to those who need it.”
Due to the pandemic, workloads and the utilization of volunteers have drastically been altered, Moon said. As a result, the Atlanta Community Food Bank has adapted and changed their game plan when it comes to distributing food.
“Typically, we would use about 30,000 volunteers in a year,” Moon said. “When COVID-19 struck, we stopped using volunteers and we have yet to start using them again due to safety precautions. The Georgia National Guard was able to come in and help us out. They are out in the community and in the warehouse packing the food.
“We distribute food to about 700 partner agencies, they are mainly located in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia,” she continued. “Our agencies range from food pantries and food kitchens that provide food to people who are hungry.”
In March, right before COVID-19 struck, the food bank started out with 50 volunteers but that number has slowly withered down since then. Overworked and under-supported, the food bank’s warehouse staff and operations team has been working as hard as they can to get the food out to as many people as possible.
“We have had to completely revamp and take a look at our ways of doing what we do,” Moon said. “Before we were a large team who loved working together but that just isn’t a possibility right now. Our executive leadership team has done a wonderful job of navigating through these tough waters.”
Of course, with the expected influx in families visiting food banks during the holidays, extra safety precautions have been put in place to ensure safe food distribution. Safety during the current spike in COVID-19 infections is of the highest priority to the food bank, Moon said.
“We are strictly enforcing all guidelines with the CDC, we stay in close contact with them since we do deal with handling food,” Moon explained. “We have an amazingly supportive community and we have been so thankful to receive support from our 29 counties. Just like everyone we’re having to adjust and pivot in order to take it one day at a time.”