Food banks see spike in volunteers and donated goods, but they need money

Hope & Heart

WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — We do it all the time, grabbing a few things at the grocery store. Maybe it’s for a special dinner or maybe it’s just a quick run to satisfy your sweet tooth.

But since COVID-19 restrictions suddenly cut millions of Americans away from their 9 to 5 routines, shopping for food is now something that happens six feet apart — and for many families, from tables of donated items.

A mother of five, who wished to be identified only as Mary, is one of those new kinds of shoppers — one of thousands of people now relying on what the Yolo County Food Bank has to offer.

“The problem is I had a job,” Mary said. “I’m not working right now. My husband is not working.”

To ensure she’d be near the front of a line of about 150 people waiting for this kind of help last Saturday, Mary arrived at 6 a.m. The distribution site next to City Hall in West Sacramento doesn’t open till 9:45.

“It’s a very hard time for everybody. I never did that before,” she said.

“There was quite a bit of unmet need even before COVID-19 so we were dramatically increasing our operations,” Yolo Food Bank Executive Director Michael Bisch said. “We had developed a brand new food distribution facility that was three times larger than our previous facility. We had amassed a great deal more of working capital. And then, since COVID-19 hit, we’ve increased our distributions by 130% overall since April of last year.”

In his daily briefings on state response to the coronavirus, Governor Gavin Newsom said food banks statewide have seen a 73% spike in demand as the deadly illness has robbed Californians of their lives and their livelihoods.

For an operation that had already pressed it’s network to reach those in need before COVID-19, how do you find a way to do even more?

“My staff is exhausted from re-doubling their efforts from already this huge increase,” Bisch said.

Stephanie Villegas is one of 700 newly-recruited volunteers.

“It’s a very nice way to be able to connect with people, even though I’m not able to get very close to them physically,” Villegas said.

Villegas has done volunteer work over the years, but she sees something different now as neighbors come down the line.

“I think what’s different this time is it’s the uncertainty for a lot of people not really knowing when things are going to go back to normal, I guess,” she said. “And I think that can be scary for a lot of people.”

Donors, already giving more, have stepped up to reduce the fear flowing through these times.

Operations like this are supposed to get a boost from a new state program bringing unused farm and ranch goods that can’t go through their normal distribution lines right now to food banks.  

The trouble is that food bank directors say they need money, too.

“To store it in the warehouse, for the refrigeration, for the fuel for the drivers, for fuel for the trucks,” Bisch told FOX40.

To store this extra food and then get it to places like Guinda and Clarksburg, it will cost the food bank about 40 cents a pound — money managers will have to raise themselves. An extra challenge, one for which failure means hungry families.

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