Across the country, the economic strains springing from the COVID-19 pandemic are taxing the ability of food banks and food pantries to serve their communities. Dramatic photos of long lines of cars filled with people waiting for assistance are making the rounds around social media. People are lining up in Kansas, too, and food banks across the state report significant increases in demand.
The agencies served by Harvesters, a regional food bank which covers 16 counties in northeast Kansas, are reporting 30% to 40% increases in the number of people seeking food assistance, says spokeswoman Sarah Biles.
One of the food banks Harvesters partners with, Just Food in Douglas County, has increased its ordering by over 400%, says executive director Elizabeth Keever.
“In a typical month, Just Food only budgets for an average of $8,000 per month for food ordering, which helps supplement the pantry supply of food with any needed pantry staples or perishable products,” Keever wrote in an email. “From March 16 through April 10, the number of clients and visits have doubled. Just Food served over 6,500 curbside pickups and deliveries, and 49% of those individuals have never needed food assistance before.”
One of the best ways to support a local food bank right now is with a monetary donation because in-kind food donations are becoming more scarce. (Some organizations are even avoiding them for now out of caution). Biles says Harvesters is currently having to purchase almost all of the food it is distributing right now. The organization is also signing up a limited number of volunteers for shifts to keep its work environments safe. (Its Topeka facility temporarily closed Thursday after a staff member showed symptoms similar to those associated with COVID-19, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.)
Getting food to Kansans is so important that Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said during her Thursday news conference that she would consider enlisting the help of the state national guard, something other several states have done, to ensure that organizations such as Harvesters are able to distribute food to those who need it.
“We’ve got to get food to people,” she said.
The above map, courtesy of Harvesters, shows the service areas of three regional food banks serving Kansas, all of which accept monetary donations.
“There isn’t really one place for people to donate that helps all the food banks, as we’re all separate organizations,” Biles says. “People would probably want to donate based on where they live.”
Keever says it’s important to remember that there are dozens of locally focused food banks and food pantries operating throughout the state that also need financial and volunteer support.
“Unfortunately, there is no one-stop-shop for a place to donate and it is important to support local agencies that are the boots on the ground,” Keever says. “Many of these agencies actually still need volunteers, so we are encouraging people who fit the CDC guidelines to volunteer if they are able.”
There are a few online resources that exist that might be helpful for locating food banks and food pantries in one’s own community. A website called Foodpantries.org has compiled a list of food banks and food pantries that operate in Kansas. News outlets such as The Wichita Eagle have published their own lists of organizations providing food assistance which also might be looking for support.
Harvesters, Just Food, the Kansas Food Bank and Second Harvest of Greater St. Joseph all accept online donations and the forms to contribute to them can be accessed by clicking on the highlighted links.
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