Food banks across the state reported “critical food shortages,” with the expectation of “significant gaps in food supply throughout the system by mid-April …,” according to a situation report from the country’s Emergency Operations Center. dated March 27. “Burning rates and demand have risen sharply.”
Jordan Rubin, Northwest Harvest’s communications director, explained: Washington can expect to see food bank shelves empty in two weeks unless there is a sudden change in the food distribution system.
Governor Jay Inslee is very concerned about the continued flow of food, according to JT Austin, senior policy advisor and member of the COVID-governor’s food safety and hunger team.
“What we are worried about is trading one public health crisis with another,” said Austin. “The need is difficult to wrap my head. The amount is very large – the amount of money, pounds of food per week to get us through this crisis in the coming weeks. ”
Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the US, said that food banks nationwide experienced a 40% increase in clients, a significant decrease in shipments due to increases in the use of grocery stores and a decrease in volunteers.
Jamie Collins Veliz, a 54-year-old grandmother of four in Yakima, depends on free food and school food banks to feed her family.
When the Yakima School District ran out of school food on March 27, he was afraid. Because the district had changed from daily to weekly distribution, he had to struggle to feed his family for the next seven days.
The school district referred him to the local food bank, but of the several food pantries that were open on Friday, most were closed at noon. He had to wait until next Monday at least before he could fill his kitchen.
Before schools closed in all states, Collins Veliz used a food bank about three times a month to feed his grandchildren, whose ages ranged from 3 to 14. He would go to St. Vincent de Paul or Salvation Army food bank; others are too far away and will consume their limited gas budget. Now, he plans to make regular visits.
“I have to go as much as possible [food banks] let me, “he said.
Collins Veliz might be lucky this month, because some Yakima Valley food banks are among the distribution sites using food shipments borrowed from May and June.
On April 3, the state gave $ 10 million to the Department of Agriculture to buy food and distribution supplies for food banks and other hunger relief organizations, and Rubin Northwest Harvest hopes it will come as soon as possible.
“We already plan to spend it,” he said. But because of the high demand in grocery stores, not many are entering the emergency food system, he said. That means the purchasing power of food banks has greatly declined, which only adds to the impending disaster.
Food banks bid against other retailers, Rubin said, but can buy at a discount. Now, costs are rising.
“We earned beforehand, say 25 cents a dollar, in the strength of our purchases. [Now] which might be closer to retail, like one dollar per dollar, “Rubins said.
At least 28 food banks and food distribution points throughout Washington have been closed at some point during the COVID-19 crisis, according to the Washington Food Coalition, which represents 300 hunger aid organizations across the state. Even more food banks have changed their hours and almost all have changed their distribution model to pickup.
Already, there are small signs of what will happen: The food bank on the west side of the state is struggling with a lack of volunteers and donations. The Cove, a small food bank in Twisp in Okanogan County, is worried about increasing its clientele. The food bank in Spokane witnessed an increase in the number of people asking for help. Pantri tribal food faces closure due to lack of food.
The number of Washington residents currently in need of food assistance is 1.6 million, double the number last year, according to estimates from Katie Rains, policy adviser at the state Department of Agriculture.
With 77,000 people newly unemployed from January to March and an additional 419,000 at immediate risk, that number is expected to increase even higher.
While food supply is a serious problem, it is able to serve staff at distribution locations. Volunteers, many of whom are retirees and seniors who are at high risk of contracting the corona virus, live at home, either with the mandate of a food bank or of their own volition.
The OKI Food Bank and Distribution Center in Yakima, which distributes to 12 Yakima Valley food banks, are usually run by volunteers and only assisted by two staff members. Now, it requires all volunteers to stay at home and attract staff from other programs to rotate through shifts at the food bank, said food bank director Haydee Barbosa.
OKI also accepts initial food shipments that were previously ordered for May and June. Last week, Barbosa said the food bank saw about 100 more people than usual in a day.
Food banks also need protective equipment. Barbosa said one of the main problems facing the food bank was the lack of masks, gloves and cleaners.
“I see several food banks, if they don’t get immediate supplies … they might have to close,” Barbosa said. “We [put in] request but we haven’t got it. “
On March 31, in response to staff fluctuations, Inslee announced that she would deploy the National Guard to help the food bank. Around 130 guards will be deployed to five districts – Raja, Pierce, Chelan, Franklin, and Walla Walla – to help unload, pack and distribute food.
Their length of stay is undetermined, said Karina Shagren, communications director of the Washington state’s Military Department, but they will help fill in the gaps caused by the lack of volunteers.
However, even with the right staff and protective equipment, the real concern remains the same: food supply.
Families like Collins Veliz will be one of many affected by food drought. Like many families facing food insecurity, Collins Veliz relies on school food and the food bank to help keep his wardrobe full.
With $ 650 for monthly Social Security and $ 749 for food stamps, he must be careful about his budget. His 30-year-old son, also at Social Security, helps with rent and electricity bills, but it is up to him to make the rest. He used to buy items on the sales page and thrift stores and resell them on the auction-style Facebook group. With both options missing in the midst of closing COVID-19, he spends a few hundred dollars a month.
This outbreak also affected the food supply chain, which had a direct impact on Collins Veliz.
“Because people are hoarding and buying all the food, I have to buy more expensive food,” Collins Veliz said. “I don’t want to have to budget: if [the grandkids] hungry. I want them to eat. “
For now, Collins Veliz depends on his food reserves. Breakfast is cereal or frozen pancakes – freshly made pancakes on special days. Lunch is ramen noodles, sometimes macaroni and cheese. For dinner, it’s canned ravioli or Spaghetti. He found some frozen pork in the back of his freezer which he was going to thaw and cook.
His truck broke down, stopping his last attempt to visit the food bank. With his extended family, food often only lasts a few days, said Collins Veliz. He will try again next week.
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