As the COVID-19 situation intensifies daily, the Food Bank is facing an unprecedented challenge to support our neighbors who are currently food insecure as well as actively preparing to support those who may now be facing hunger as a result of lost hours, wages, or jobs.
On Monday, March 16, 2020, food banks were officially named by the California Department of Public Health as an essential service provider, similar to a grocery store. Now, more than ever, our continued efforts are critical to ensuring that those with limited financial resources get access to the food they need to weather the pandemic. This week we have ramped up those efforts to overcome growing barriers to food access.
In order to meet the dramatic need to provide food to food insecure individuals during this pandemic, we are actively opening pop-up pantries across SF and Marin to accommodate large numbers of people who have lost access to food due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have seven pantries at schools that are offering to-go meals for students. When students and parents pick up their breakfast and lunch, they will also be able to get pre-bagged groceries to take home.
We are working closely with our pantry partners to help keep as many pantries open as possible so they can continue to serve participants. We continue to purchase and send out extra shelf-stable food items (above and beyond the typical bag of groceries) for participants to set aside in case they can’t make it to a future weekly pantry.
Low-income seniors are often the most vulnerable to food insecurity, and now they are facing even more challenges given they are also the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Many of our senior participants are sheltering in place or no longer have access to their weekly pantries, and we are looking for support from the community to help us ramp up our home-delivery program and provide groceries to homebound seniors.
The health, safety, and well-being of our employees, volunteers, partners, and participants is a top priority. By following all CDC guidelines, cleaning, and practicing social distancing, our goal is to maintain safe practices that will reduce the risk of virus transmission while avoiding the disruption of this essential service for the community. We are closely monitoring the situation and reevaluating our safety protocols daily.
Q: How is COVID-19 impacting the food distribution?
So far, about 100 of our 275 pantries have temporarily closed for a variety of safety-based reasons. We expect that number to continue to rise. To prepare, a couple of weeks ago, we started purchasing and sending out a few additional pounds of shelf-stable food each week for participants to set aside in case they can’t get to a pantry for any reason.
Q: When will you cancel the food distribution?
We’ll continue to carry out our mission as long as it’s safe for our staff. Access to nutritious food is essential to maintaining good health, and it’s more important than ever to reach people in need during times of crisis.
Q: What are you doing to ensure the health and safety of your staff, volunteers, and participants?
We are in close contact with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) and are following their recommendations. In response to the COVID-19 situation, we have reduced the number of volunteers at each shift and are conducting shifts outside, when possible. We have doubled down on cleaning and handwashing—and, of course, hand sanitizer and disinfectant are readily available. The volunteers use gloves and we are mindful of spacing per CDC guidelines. At the pantries, our volunteers help bag the food to speed up the lines and help create as much space as possible between participants and volunteers. All of our staff who can conduct their work from home are doing so.
Q: Do you anticipate needing to feed more participants?
Yes, while we are currently rapidly moving to try to ensure that none of our current participants have a disruption in their weekly food access, we know that the dramatic increase of lost wages, hours, and jobs as a result of the shelter-in-place order means that there will be significantly more people in need of our help. As the community continues to need to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus, we expect that more and more people will need food assistance. Additionally, in our experience during past economic downturns, we expect to see increased levels of need for food even after the shelter in place orders are lifted as people are slowly able to regain employment and restabilize their family’s financial situation.
Q: How can I get help?
If you are in need of food assistance, click here