BENSON — Local food banks and distribution centers are feeling the impact as the coronavirus spreads across the world and businesses are forced to close.
Organizations have been forced to reduce their hours and change their systems, but are still working diligently to serve the community.
Benson Area Food Bank
The Benson Area Food Bank has cut back its hours of operation from five days a week to three and, in keeping with federal social distancing guidelines, has changed how it distributes food.
“We’ve cut our hours to Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” said Joy Reilley, who co-manages the facility with her husband, Jack. “Because of coronavirus and the social distancing guidelines, some of our volunteers are concerned about working here.
“Most of them are in their seventies and eighties, and some have health problems, so they are in that vulnerable age group. We’re struggling to find enough volunteers to keep the doors open five days a week, which is one reason we’re cutting back to three,” she said.
Along with the reduction in hours, the food bank has changed its distribution system from inside the facility to outdoors, where the public is provided food in front of the facility.
“Considering the social distancing guidelines, I think the outdoor distribution is a great idea,” said 11-year food bank volunteer, Maria Spiess. “It’s real close quarters in the building, so this change is a good move, at least until all this goes away.”
Now that schools are closed, the food bank is experiencing intermittent increases in families that are seeking food assistance.
“We’re tracking the number of people who come through here to see if there’s a consistent increase in demand with the school closures, along with supply shortages we’re seeing,” Rielley said.
As of Thursday, Reilley reported an adequate supply of canned and dried goods, but expressed concerns about dwindling supplies of bread, produce and meat.
“Part of the problem is that grocery stores are extremely picked over right now, and people can’t find the items they need, so they come to us for help,” volunteer Sue Hamilton said. “Bread supplies are dwindling and there’s a shortage of meat, eggs and paper goods at grocery stores, and we’re seeing some of those same shortages at the food bank.”
Jack Reilley attributes the shortages to an uncertainty the coronavirus pandemic has created across the country.
“There just seems to be a lot of panic right now, and that’s affecting supplies in grocery stores everywhere because of the hoarding problems,” he said. “And it impacts food banks because we get a lot of our donations from grocery stores.”
People aren’t sure what to expect from one day to the next, which is a big problem for everyone, he added.
“They’re panicking about running out of food and other items, and are stockpiling products when they’re available, which causes shortages in the supply chain,” Reilly said.
Meanwhile, the food bank continues to provide services, and is committed to continuing its operations as long as they have the food to do it.
“We’ll be open three days a week providing food boxes to people in need,” Joy Reilley said. “Like everything else, we don’t know how long our supplies are going to last, but we’re here for the community as long as we have food.
Depending on the need, between two and three thousand people come through the food bank every month seeking assistance, Reilly said.
“With schools providing the free Grab and Go breakfast and lunches every day, that may take some of the demand strain off the banks, but we’re not sure what to expect at this point. All of this is still very new for us.”
Community Food Pantry of Benson
The Community Food Pantry of Benson, a nonprofit that distributes food every Wednesday from 9 a.m. until noon, is struggling because of food shortages at local grocery stores, said Najayyah Many Horses, president of the organization’s board.
The Food Pantry serves upwards of 700 people every week through its distribution program in partnership with Feed America, a national hunger relief organization, Many Horses said.
“Through that partnership, on the third Wednesday of each month, we distribute extra items such as milk, meat, and fresh produce,” she added.
Located at 1120 W. Fourth Street, all Food Pantry distributions are by drive-up only, and items are loaded into vehicles by volunteers.
“Keeping people in need fed during these times of uncertainty is our focus,” Many Horses said. “While we receive food from Feed America, we also rely on monetary donations to keep our operations up and running, as well as food donations. Like so many nonprofit organizations and individuals, we’re being impacted by the pandemic because grocery stores can’t fill our food purchases. Shelves are bare.”
Nonperishable food items such as rice, ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese and canned fruits, vegetables and meats are big priorities, Many Horses said.
To make arrangements to drop items off, call the Food Pantry at 520-200-5186.
“We appreciate all donations. The Food Pantry is here to serve our community, and as long as we can get food, we will be here to serve. And we are trying hard to get food.”