Volunteer group leader Bruce Beecham is working on food sorting at the Atlanta Food Bank’s Hunger Action Center in College Park, Georgia on Wednesday, September 22, 2021: Food banks increased production to avoid an explosion in the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, September 22, 2021 To meet the needs of families in financial need. Now some are preparing to permanently increase their food distribution with large expansion projects, partly driven by their experiences during the pandemic | Photo from related press file by John Bazemore, St. George News
ATLANTA (AP) – Food banks across the country are pursuing major expansion projects, partly due to their experiences during the pandemic when they faced an explosion in demand.
“So many people who have never had to ask for help were able to need help and not sure where to go,” said Ginette Bott, president and CEO of Utah Food Bank. “It was like someone flipped a switch.”
Even if the demand for fresh and packaged supplies has declined since the pandemic peaks, the demand is still well above the pre-pandemic level.
Feeding South Florida is planning a large new facility to expand its product range. Two North Carolina food banks filled with billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott will build new structures that will double their food storage capacity. The Utah Food Bank is adding space to Salt Lake City and will be building new food warehouses elsewhere in the state.
And in Georgia, the Atlanta Community Food Bank moved into a 32,000-square-foot warehouse that is considered the largest food bank in the world. The move preceded COVID-19, but officials say it was a blessing during the pandemic.
“We have never been able to reach anyone who needs (help), even during the pandemic,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, a national network of most of the US food banks. We understood better than ever what we are capable of and how we think through the long game. “
In Utah, one of two new warehouses will be located near an Indian reservation that was challenging during the pandemic, Bott said. The second location offers free dinners for children, a population acutely suffering from food insecurity when schools that provided meals went virtual.
Overall, the blackboard will more than double its storage capacity after incurring additional costs for extra space needed during the pandemic, Bott said. She estimated the new projects would cost around $ 40 million.
As part of its own expansion, Albemarle’s food bank in northeast North Carolina is making sure it has enough generators in the event a hurricane or tornado goes out of power, said chief executive Liz Reasoner.
Meanwhile, Feeding South Florida plans to build a 4,600-7,400-square-foot facility to freeze and package products. The goal is to ingest more plants during the growing season and then make them available year-round, said CEO Paco Velez.
“There are still a lot of products that are wasted,” he said.
The projects take place amid persistent food insecurity in the US, even though the country is slowly returning from the economic fallout from the pandemic. Food banks in America delivered a record 6.6 billion meals between July 2020 and June 2021, up from 5.2 billion the year before, the organization said.
On a weekday, a dozen cars were parked in the Toco Hills Community Alliance, a pantry in an affluent suburb northeast of Atlanta, before opening hours. Masked volunteers waited under a white tent to load canned fruit and vegetables, fresh produce, and meat and other groceries in suitcases as drivers passed through one by one.
Helen Moody, a 60-year-old disabled veteran in the U.S. Army, has relied on the pantry for groceries since 2017. Moody said she and her husband live on $ 2,000 a month and are not eligible for state food aid.
“We have a really tight budget,” she said. “When we come here, we only have a little bit of room for other things, just a little bit of leeway, because otherwise there is no air to breathe.”
The Community Alliance buys some of its groceries from the Atlanta Community Food Bank at heavily discounted prices. The expansion of the food bank has given it access to a greater variety of food products, said Lisa Heilig, Allianz’s managing director. A few months ago she was able to offer guava, a fruit familiar to some Hispanic immigrants who use the pantry.
The new Atlanta Community Food Bank facility near Atlanta International Airport has food storage space the equivalent of approximately five and a half soccer fields. A tour of the facility last month gave an idea of the benefits of a larger location.
Forklift trucks with large food pallets moved freely across the expansive floor, and their drivers beeped gently to warn passers-by. Nearly three dozen docking doors enabled trucks to deliver and collect groceries without waiting. In a separate area, volunteers in masks checked the expiration dates of cereal boxes, canned soup and other foods.
Food banks rely heavily on volunteers, but many were unable to house them safely during the pandemic and had to find alternative sources of help.
The new location has enabled the food bank to distribute tens of millions of extra pounds of food.
“There are only a large number of our neighbors who need help to meet all of their basic needs with rising housing costs, rising healthcare costs and other stresses,” said Kyle Waide, president of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. “And we think the pressure will be here indefinitely even without the pandemic.”
Written by SUDHIN THANAWALA, Associated Press.
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