JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As thousands of Floridians file for unemployment, schools remain closed and older residents are encouraged to remain in their homes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the demand at food banks is increasing.
A line of cars stretching for miles could be seen waiting to get food at a food bank earlier this week in South Florida.
But even as the demand grows, agencies said donations from major grocery stores are down roughly 60%.
“With grocery store shelves now being depleted, there’s less for those store managers to pull off the shelves and set aside for donation,” said Sarah Dobson, director of development with Feeding Northeast Florida, a local food bank in Jacksonville.
Feeding Northeast Florida said several of its partner agencies are reporting two to three times as many households needing food assistance.
And Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry in Jacksonville Beach has also noticed more people who need their resources.
BEAM, the only beaches area food bank, provides groceries to many partners and elementary school families through food pantries and mobile food distributions. Last week alone, the organization provided pre-packaged groceries, totaling more than 6,000 pounds of food, and distributed more than 13,000 meals to high-risk populations.
“For food and financial resources, we're just experiencing a call volume right now that’s incredibly hard to keep up with,” said Lori Richards, executive director of BEAM.
She expects that trend to continue.
To meet the growing need, many agencies, including Feeding Northeast Florida and BEAM, are purchasing food and relying on virtual food drives to help.
Right now, Richards said, BEAM's warehouse has three weeks worth of food.
“We’ve decided we never want to get below two weeks before we are ordering more, so we’re not able to add capacity to the system anymore. We’re just doing our best to make sure our supply can keep up with the commitments that we normally have,” Richards said.
BEAM also provides low-income beaches residents help with overdue bills. In March, BEAM assisted 69 households with overdue bills, and by April 7, just one week into the month, BEAM had already assisted 70 households with emergency rent assistance.
At-risk seniors identified by BEAM and Beaches Council on Aging are being called by BEAM staff and volunteers on a regular basis to check in on their status and grocery supplies.
Despite the increased demand on their resources, the COVID-19 pandemic is also changing the way organizations distribute food and accept donations. For safety reasons, they are doing drive-thrus for distribution to minimize contact, and they are not taking physical donations for the time being.
- Feeding Northeast Florida: https://www.feedingnefl.org/
As for the months ahead?
“We remain really optimistic,” Dobson said.
Clay Electric Foundation donates $50K to food banks
This week, the Clay Electric Foundation granted $5,000 each to 10 area food banks through Operation Round Up, a program that allows Clay Electric members to have their electric bills rounded up to the next dollar for charitable purposes.
“Typically, organizations received funding by submitting a grant application when they are in need of funding,” said Derick Thomas, chief public relations officer with Clay Electric. “Due to the recent increase in jobless families, we felt it was urgent to release funds immediately to organizations that have a proven history of providing food for those in need in our service area.”
The Foundation’s board of directors voted unanimously to donate $5,000 to each the following area food banks:
- Food Pantry of Green Cove Springs
- Marion Senior Services
- Food Bridge of United Methodist Church
- Catholic Charities of Lake City Regional Office
- Waste Not Want Not
- Hawthorne Area Resource Center
- Interfaith Emergency Services
- Lake Area Ministries
- Feed the Need of Putnam County, Inc.
- Bread of the Mighty Food Bank
For more information about Operation Round Up, visit ClayElectric.com.