Directors of local food banks are expecting a surge in demand for nutrition assistance due to the outbreak of coronavirus 2019 and the subsequent closing of schools and businesses.
Their efforts to alleviate the expected increase in need have been hampered by the reduced supply from local grocery stores; stocks of basic items have been depleted by those rushing to fill their own pantries.
Fauquier Community Food Bank
Sharon Ames, director of Fauquier Community Food Bank and Thrift Store, said that donations from grocery stores were down by 70% on the morning of March 16, forcing the food bank to limit the distribution of some staples like bread, bottled water and frozen protein items. Shelves that are normally filled with bread loaves – an especially scarce item at grocery stores currently - have been mostly stocked with other items.
Some good news came on Tuesday afternoon; an anonymous donor gave $700 to Great Harvest Bread Company in Warrenton to bake loaves specifically for Fauquier Community Food Bank. That donation was quickly followed by another, $100 from real estate agent Tom Campbell of Fathom Realty.
Great Harvest owner Pablo Teodoro said that the bakery would make an additional 20% more loaves than the money would normally buy – which also applies to future donations -- meaning the donations from Tuesday would cover 40 loaves per day for the next 3 ½ days. He added that the food bank will be able to order specific breads and that the loaves would arrive at the food bank “very fresh.”
Ames said she expects a surge in demand for nutrition assistance in the near future. “The phone has not stopped ringing,” she said, adding that people most frequently call to ask if the food bank is still open. Others have called to say they don’t have enough food in their homes to make it through another week. “That’s terrifying,” Ames said. She added that older people are the “most panicked,” but she is also concerned about families with children who are impacted by school closings and job losses.
“I will stay open as long as I possibly can stay open,” she said. The food bank has taken extra precautions to this end: only one family member at a time is allowed to shop, and children have been asked to stay outside while their parents pick out food.
Ames said that she is concerned that the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak will severely increase the number of people who need nutrition assistance, some of whom might not have experienced that need before. “Many households are going to be food insecure,” she said.
Ames said that the best way to help is to donate food. “If you’ve got it, we can use it,” she said.
Carol Schumacher, executive director of Fauquier FISH, said that she “definitely” expects an uptick in demand for food aid, but she is confident that the organization will be able to do its part to meet that need. “It’s stressful times that bring out the best in people,” she said. “Most of the calls coming in have said: ‘What can I do to help?’”
Schumacher said that FISH has altered its food pantry procedures – like limiting the number of people inside at any given time – to better comply with guidelines from public health officials. “We are going to try to stay open if we can,” she said, adding that the pantry may be open an extra day per week to meet demand.
“The hard part,” said Schumacher, “has been ordering food from grocery stores” due to the stores’ own struggles to keep some basic staples in stock. “Most of the stuff we put out [on the food pantry shelves], we buy,” she added.
In addition to the food pantry, FISH runs a program called Weekend Power Pack. Students in Fauquier County who are considered at-risk of hunger receive a backpack full of food each Friday at school. The closure of schools through at least March 27 adds an extra – but not insurmountable – hurdle, said Schumacher.
She emphasized that FISH already has programs in place to distribute food to students during spring break and summer vacation, so she is confident that the Power Pack program will continue to be effective during the current school closures. “We do this every summer,” she said of the Power Pack program operating when school is out. “It’s not a new thing to do this, just kind of an awkward time.”
She added that students in the Power Pack program were able to pick up backpacks on Monday morning, and that they would have enough food to get them through this week. She said that FISH is coordinating with the school division to ensure the Power Pack program could continue while schools are closed. FISH is also considering adding more distribution points for the program. “The kids are going to be fed during this time,” she emphasized.
Schumacher said that financial donations are the most helpful contribution right now. Volunteers and donations of food are also helpful. She encouraged the public to follow the organization’s Facebook page for updates.
“This is affecting everything,” said Tyronne Champion, executive director of Community Touch, of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. His organization operates a food pantry, a transitional housing facility, a thrift store and a daycare.
Champion said that he “definitely” expects an increased demand for food from the pantry. “We’re getting emergency phone calls during the week asking if they can come by and pick up food,” he said, adding that the food pantry works to accommodate these requests.
Beyond that, he said that he is concerned with keeping the day care open for the clients in transitional housing who rely on that day care to be able to work and keep on a path towards self-sufficiency. As of Monday, the day care remained open.
Champion said that food pantry’s services will be especially needed in the coming weeks, and added that donations of food, supplies and funds are needed and appreciated. “We appreciate the community support. We’re all in this together, combating the same thing,” he said.
Reach Coy Ferrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.