Local Food Banks Brace For Growing Need

Mar 30, 2020

Food at Hope Distributed, a pantry partner of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
Credit Bridget Manley

The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank has issued a call for volunteers for their area food pantries to help serve a growing need. WMRA’s Bridget Manley reports.

The food bank’s CEO Michael McKee says that as job losses rise in the Shenandoah Valley because of the pandemic, more people are seeking food assistance.

Michael McKee is CEO of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which works with local food banks in eight cities and 25 counties in central and western Virginia.
Credit Courtesy of Michael McKee

MICHAEL MCKEE: The current status right now is managing chaos.

During normal life, the food bank and pantries rely on volunteers in their sixties, seventies and eighties - an older population of people who are now being advised to stay home.  Meanwhile, the food bank’s partners regularly distribute food for nearly two million meals every month for around 100,000 people, and they anticipate a significant rise in those numbers in the coming weeks.  Simply put, the need will skyrocket and the volunteers aren’t there to help.

MCKEE: So we see a surge of people in need coming [and] we have volunteers who are being advised to stay home because they're at greater risk. Our partners in the community - the local food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters - are struggling to stay open, and we're really concerned about how they're going to to meet the need that is coming this week and in the months following.

McKee says that in order for pantries and other food service partners to maintain operations, they need volunteers.  They are asking anyone healthy, young and with no previous exposure to anyone with any symptoms of COVID-19 to contact local pantries or the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank through their website and click “get involved.”

MCKEE: You know, it is certainly the most complex disaster we've had to respond to. Because it is - as a pandemic - a public health crisis, that creates challenges both for those we serve and those who are partnering with us to serve. And then coming out of this is going to be an unprecedented - and at this point - unpredictable financial crisis. The job losses are going to be horrific.

The food bank is taking aggressive steps to help their partners get food out the door in a safe and quick manner. They have authorized $153,000 to buy food in pre-packed boxes that make it easy for pantries to distribute food with fewer volunteers.  They are stepping up intensified personal hygiene and sanitation protocols and sharing those protocols with their partners, and they are helping pantries shift to low-touch distribution methods, including mobile pantries and drive-through pantries.

McKee says that while no one knows how long the current crisis will last, they anticipate need for food will soar for the duration.

MCKEE: The current generations of Americans - aside from those who went through the Great Depression - have really never seen anything quite like this.