FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – The coronavirus pandemic is putting a strain on food pantries, which have had to shift their operations with people practicing social distancing.
The Barnabas Center in Nassau County has seen double the number of families coming in for food over the past few weeks as they struggle to make ends meet.
It’s the biggest increase in need Wanda Lanier has seen in her 10 years as the organization’s chief executive officer.
“The only time that was comparable was right after the two hurricanes that hit when we did see a surge,” Lanier told News4Jax. “But that was very temporary. We see that this is going to last weeks, or months.”
The public health crisis has forced the Barnabas Center to start purchasing its food outright because the food pantry has seen a sharp decline in the bread of butter of its operations: grocery stores and farms.
“Food pantries like ours depend on food banks that get their food from other grocers and retail stores that are surplus or reclaimed,” Lanier said. “And there is no surplus food right now., so we’re now having to go out into the private market and purchase food, which is extremely expensive for us.”
“So when we can find it, we do purchase it at a pretty high cost. But even that food is limited because everybody’s competing for the same (supplies),” she added.
Many patrons Barnabas has served in recent weeks have never sought food assistance before and the center is seeing more families than individuals, Lanier said.
Normally, Barnabas serves about 25 families at any given distribution. Now, they’re serving closer to 50 families.
Cars line up at the distribution centers, waiting in drive-through lines since Barnabas stopped letting people inside the food pantry for health and safety reasons.
Barnabas is limiting social interaction, so the center is no longer accepting physical donations from the public. Instead, they’re asking for financial contributions.
Staff at the center also just converted a van that is typically used for medical services into a mobile food pantry to deliver meals on wheels. Right now, they’re stocking the van to serve about 100 families, Lanier said.
In the last couple weeks, more than 1,700 hospital and service industry workers in Nassau County lost their jobs. Lanier wants them to know there’s no shame in that.
“You shouldn’t be embarrassed,” Lanier said. “This is an extremely extraordinary time for people in need who need help, and that’s what we’re here for.”
At this time, Barnabas and its assistance programs remain open for business, though there has been a reduction in hours and services in some areas.
To learn more about food programs and meal distribution schedules, visit the Barnabas Center’s website. If you would like to make a financial donation, you can do so by clicking here or by contacting Tania Yount, the chief development officer, via email at email@example.com.