Giving Compass' Take:

• Tom Silva, an employee at a local Rochester food bank discusses the struggles of distributing food to pantries in the surrounding area and the other challenges for local food pantries and kitchens during the pandemic. 

• How can you charitable giving help keep local food banks afloat? What resources might they need the most? 

• Learn more about the increase in food pantry requests across the U.S. in the wake of COVID-19. 

Tom Silva works at a Foodlink, a food bank in Rochester, New York. Part of the Feeding America network, a nationwide system of more than 200 food banks, Foodlink serves not just the city, but also ten surrounding rural counties, distributing purchased and donated food to pantries and social service agencies. Silva has worked here for five years, including one as an AmeriCorps volunteer, and he’s never seen anything like this.

Like other food banks across the country, Foodlink is in triage mode. Unemployment has surged during the Covid-19 pandemic, sending droves of people to seek emergency food for the first time. At the same time, outlets that help at the local level—food pantries and soup kitchens—are closing, due to health concerns and a shrinking volunteer base.

Tom Silva: Normally, at this time of year, we’d be humming along. We have food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters that order food from us, and we deliver to them or they pick it up. We also serve a fair amount of non-emergency organizations, like senior centers, daycares, after-school programs, and Head Starts. It’s the hub-and-spoke model, which is common among food banks.

Since the pandemic hit, in March, I’m comfortable saying that we’ve about doubled our normal volume. As of two days ago, we’ve distributed 142,000 grab-and-go meals, over 38,000 emergency food supply boxes, and almost 16,000 bags of food for the weekend backpack program. It’s almost two million pounds of food. Within the organization, anything that’s not about getting food to someone today or tomorrow has been put on hold, just to meet this demand.

I’d say at least half of our organization—which is about 100 employees, give or take—work in positions that are outside our warehouse or kitchen. A lot of people work in community programs, or operate a mobile market, or run the farm, or are in the business and administration side of things. And we’ve pretty much put all of that on hold, and those staffers have been moved to operations and logistics.

Read the full article about food banks by Talia Moore at The Counter.