Food banks across the country are pursuing major expansion plans driven in part by their experiences during the pandemic, as they faced an explosion in needs.
“So many people who have never had to ask for help have found themselves in a position of needing it and not knowing where to go,” said Ginette Bott, President and CEO of the Bank. Utah food. “It was like someone flipped a switch.”
Even though the demand for fresh, packaged supplies has fallen from pandemic peaks, the need remains well above pre-pandemic levels.
Feeding South Florida is planning a new large plant to increase its product supply. Two North Carolina food banks benefiting from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s money are set to build new structures that will double their food storage capacity. The Utah Food Bank is adding space in Salt Lake City and is preparing to build new food warehouses elsewhere in the state as well.
And in Georgia, the Atlanta Community Food Bank has moved into a 345,000 square foot (32,000 square meter) warehouse billed as the world’s largest food bank. The move preceded COVID-19, but officials say it was a godsend during the pandemic.
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“We have never, ever, including during the pandemic, been able to reach everyone who needs (help),” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, a national network of most food banks. in the United States “But what we ‘We understand better than ever what we’re capable of and how do we think throughout the game.”
In Utah, one of two new warehouses will be near a Native American reservation that was a challenge to serve during the pandemic, Bott said. The second site will offer free lunches to children, a population that suffered greatly from food insecurity when the schools that provided meals went virtual.
Overall, the food bank will more than double its storage capacity after incurring additional costs for the extra space needed during the pandemic, Bott said. She estimated that the new projects would cost around $ 40 million.
As part of its own expansion, the food bank in Albemarle, northeastern North Carolina, is making sure it has enough generators in case a hurricane or tornado cuts off the power, the company said. Executive Director Liz Reasoner.
Meanwhile, Feeding South Florida plans to build a 50,000 to 80,000 square foot (4,600 to 7,400 square meter) plant to freeze and package produce. The goal is to harvest more crops during the growing season and then make them available year round, CEO Paco Velez said.
“There is still a lot of product that is wasted,” he said.
The projects come against a backdrop of persistent food insecurity in the United States despite the country’s slow return from the economic fallout from the pandemic. Feeding U.S. food banks provided a record 6.6 billion meals between July 2020 and June 2021, up from 5.2 billion the previous year, the organization said.
On a recent weekday, a dozen cars lined up well before opening time at the Toco Hills Community Alliance, a pantry in an affluent suburb northeast of Atlanta. Masked volunteers waited in a white tent to load canned fruits and vegetables, fresh produce, meat and other groceries into chests as drivers passed one by one.
Helen Moody, a 60-year-old disabled US Army veteran, has been relying on the pantry for her groceries since 2017. Moody said she and her husband were living on $ 2,000 a month and were not eligible to federal food aid.
“We are on a very tight budget,” she said. “When we come here, then we can have just a little for other things, just a little leeway because other than that, you don’t have room to breathe.”
The community alliance buys some of its food from the Atlanta Community Food Bank at greatly reduced prices. The expansion of the food bank has given it access to a wider variety of food products, said Lisa Heilig, executive director of the alliance. 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 the Atlanta International Airport has a food storage area equal to approximately five and a half football fields. A tour of the facility last month gave an overview of the benefits of a larger site.
Forklifts carrying large pallets of food moved freely across the vast floor, their drivers beeping softly to alert passers-by. Nearly three dozen mooring gates allowed trucks to deliver and pick up food without waiting time. In a separate area, masked volunteers checked the expiration dates of cereal boxes, canned soup and other groceries.
Food banks rely heavily on volunteers, but many could not accommodate them safely during the pandemic and had to find other sources of help.
The new location allowed the food bank to distribute tens of millions of additional pounds of food.
“There are just a large number of our neighbors who, due to rising housing costs, rising health care costs and other pressures they face, need help meeting all of their basic needs, ”said Kyle Waide, president of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. “And we think the pressure is going to be here indefinitely even without the pandemic.”