BROOKLYN, NY – People start queuing as early as 6am today outside the emergency food pantry in the Brooklyn Flatbush neighborhood.

Theresa Gilbert, a 61-year-old caregiver at home who was queuing up on a hot day recently, said money had been tight since March, when she caught a cold at work and the agency she worked for sent her home. He hasn’t worked since, and the food he gets here helps make ends meet.

“Whatever I have, I make it,” said Ms Gilbert.

Demand for vegetables, milk and free canned goods offered here has jumped since the coronavirus pandemic crippled the US economy, shutting down businesses and pushing millions of people out of work. The social service provider Camba Inc., which manages the pantry, said it served more than 18,000 people last month, nearly five times the number in February, before the virus began to attack in the US.

The scene was repeated throughout the country when increasing demand hit food banks and kitchens, leading to a long line of people searching for food and forcing food providers to overcome shortages of high demand products such as canned goods even when they handled the crush of products from the edge . food service operations. Food aid organizations are retooling operations for the Covid-19 era, testing new distribution tactics, bringing in temporary workers and struggling to secure storage space to meet the level of needs that some say can stretch into next year and beyond.

The hunger aid organization, Feeding America, a national network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food and food programs, estimates that the pandemic could push an additional 17 million people into what it calls food insecurity this year. More than 82% of US food banks serve more people than last year, with an average increase of 50%, according to a June survey by the group.

“This pandemic is suppressing a system that has struggled to ensure that all the food we produce finds its way to people,” said Emily Broad Leib, director of the Harvard Law School’s Law and Food Policy Clinic.

The food bank acts as a logistics arm for a number of hunger relief programs, overseeing supply chains connecting donations with those in need. They recover excess food from supermarkets, factories, farmers and government agencies and then send, store and distribute the food to smaller institutions such as food pantry and food programs.

When the pandemic first hit, consumer inventories destroyed stable product supply on the shelf it is the backbone of the food aid effort. Donations of items such as rice and soup dried up, forcing many food banks to buy goods and competing with retailers and other food banks. Product remain in high demand as corona virus cases soar in many US states.

“There is almost a bidding war for some of these products,” said Kristopher Tazelaar, a spokesman for Second Harvest Foodbank from Southern Wisconsin.

A worker moves food boxes to the Chicago United Center floor in March. Food donations are kept at the home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks after the pandemic closes their season.


/ Associated Press

One of the producers told the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank that it would only respect 50% of the organization’s extraordinary purchase orders. “We have more than 80 tractor-trailer loads that are delayed, shorted or canceled,” said Chief Executive Lisa Scales.

Earlier in the pandemic, Ms Scales said, the group heard from vendors who told them things like: “If the shipping container is loaded, and if the ship is not left at sea, and if they let it dock, and if it cleans customs without being seized by [federal authorities], and if we can find a truck, we will bring your rice there in six weeks. “

The delayed burden is coming now, he said, and the volume is burdening the operations and capacity of the group’s warehouse. The food bank rents out space at the nearest convention center in May and June before the site is set to reopen for events.

Like other food banks, it leases outside storage space at a higher than normal rate and has brought more workers to handle goods, adding to rising costs.

Earlier this year, the Greater Chicago Food Depository used the United Center, the Chicago Bulls enclosure of the National Basketball Association and the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League, as a logistics center. The organization sent nearly 920,000 pounds of food to the arena between late March and late May, when a faster distribution of food boxes reduced its need for additional storage.

Volume at the Houston Food Bank, the largest in the Feeding America network, has more than doubled since the pandemic. The group distributes an average of 25 food trailers a day in May and June compared to 10 during the same period last year. “We have spent a lot of money on trucks,” said Chief Executive Brian Greene.

This group has leased a second warehouse and secured a third warehouse, with more space to accommodate volunteers who work under distant social requirements. The facility will also have refrigerated storage to accommodate a surge of more than 10 percentage points in donated products since the pandemic closed many US restaurants and food service industries.

Food boxes were provided by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank at the drive-through distribution center in Pittsburgh in April.


Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press

“The building did not just grow,” said Mr. Tazelaar of Second Harvest Foodbank in Southern Wisconsin, which is trying to secure more cooling and freezer space. “Our partner agents, many of them do it with freezers that might be in your basement.”

Once goods reach the pantry, social distance requirements complicate distribution. Some groups switch from supermarket type settings, where people choose the items they want, to push operations, where workers collect boxes beforehand and place them in people’s luggage.

Outside New York, New Jersey was the country hardest hit by the pandemic in the spring of 2020. The WSJ visited an emergency food distribution event in Newark to talk to New Jersey residents about food insecurity during the pandemic. (Originally published May 4, 2020)

Organizations that seek to reach seniors and people in home quarantine sometimes work with large digital operators that focus on home delivery. Inc.

donating delivery services to food banks throughout the US through the Amazon Flex driver network. DoorDash Inc., known for its restaurant delivery, adapted its software to accommodate large food orders and group delivery routes through partnerships with government agencies, restaurants and non-profit organizations.

New York City-based Camba, which relies on a mixture of donations and purchased goods, said earlier the shortage of basic goods such as milk had subsided. Recently, the group received funding from a state program aimed at reverting surplus agricultural products from New York dairy farmers and farmers to food banks.

Most of the milk, yogurt and products the group obtained were given on the day of delivery, said Janet Miller, Cambodia’s senior vice president. “Everything was really on time.”

Write to Jennifer Smith in [email protected]

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