Reports and photos are emerging from across the country showing cars, lined by the hundreds, with people waiting to receive food packages from food banks.
Cathy Pope, president of the Mid-South Food Bank, said as the agency has nearly doubled the amount of food it distributes, it is beginning to see long lines form at a few of its mobile food pantries.
Since the beginning of March, the food bank has distributed 3 million meals, which equates to about 3.6 million pounds of food. In a typical month, the agency distributes 1.3 pounds of food.
Pope said at a mobile pantry site last week that was set up to serve 400 people, nearly 800 additional people showed up in need of food, but were turned away.
“We always let people know if they miss one mobile pantry, there will be another one,” Pope said. “We also still have our brick and mortar pantries.”
The issue was not a lack of food, but a lack of food at that particular site, Pope added. Currently, the food bank has enough food to distribute to those in need, but not enough distribution points.
Pope said the key to avoiding the long lines and turning individuals away is having enough dedicated distribution sites located throughout the city. That means securing partners who are willing to set up mobile food pantries.
“We need other partners like the Kroc Center that can run a consistent mobile pantry,” Pope said. “Like every Friday, folks can bet on it, we’re going to be here at X location. So it’s a consistent, scheduled distribution system that we need. This way people can consistently access food. It’s going to take a lot of partners, a lot of mobile pantries, and a lot of food.”
Any organization interested in sponsoring a mobile pantry can fill out a form on the food bank’s website.
With the 200 food banks across the country, along with emergency agencies and grocery stores, Pope said last week the food bank experienced some issues with orders.
“We haven’t had a lot of trouble getting food in the door once we have ordered,” Pope said. “But last week there were some glitches in the pipeline. Some orders were canceled or they weren’t complete. We’d only get 25 percent of the order or something like that. But, I believe the pipeline has cleared up and worked itself out now. We just need to continue to raise the money to pay for that food.”
In order to maintain the level of food it is currently providing, Pope said the food bank has to have continued community support. Food donations are down as the coronavirus pandemic has halted food drives and other means of collecting donated food. But Pope said financial donations have been up.
“It’s just going to take a large amount of food,” Pope said of meeting the ongoing need. “We’re having to purchase about half of what we distribute. Depending on how long this goes on, we need funding to keep orders in the cue. But as long as we get food in the door, we absolutely can distribute it.”
If funding does become low, Pope said the Mid-South Food Bank, along with other food banks in the state, is proactively working with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, which will coordinate food orders for local food banks.
“We’re hopeful about that,” she said. “That’s a very good, solid back-up, for sure.”
Pope said she doesn’t foresee the food bank running out of food to supply, but “are we going to be able to meet the need if it’s three times what it is or four? I don’t know.”
Which brings Pope back to highlighting the importance of community support.
“We’ve gotten community support, but it just needs to be consistent,” she said. “This is not an ‘oh, we’ll be done in a week’ situation. We know feeding these families who are out of work is a long-term thing. It’s going to take some time for us to get rolling again.”
The best way to ensure the agency has enough food to meet the need, Pope said, is to donate. Find more information on how to do that here.