AUSTIN (KXAN) — Families struggling to make ends meet during the COVID crisis will be able to pick up free food from the Central Texas Food Bank.

The distribution is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to noon at LBJ Early College High School in northeast Austin.

On Tuesday, the food bank gave out emergency food boxes to about 1,100 households in Waco. CEO and President of Central Texas Food Bank Derrick Chubbs told KXAN he’s expecting to help more than a thousand families in the Austin-area Wednesday.

“In Travis County, we saw a 207% increase during the month of March,” he said.

Chubbs said one challenge facing food banks across the country is the availability of food.

“We depend heavily on donated food, so three, four weeks ago, when we were seeing empty shelves when we were going shopping personally, well, that meant that [the grocery stores] weren’t donating food either,” he explained.

That means the food bank has to buy food to help families in need.

“The good news is I’m not totally limited to having to procure food from Central Texas. Thanks to the Feeding America network, we have access to food all across the country,” Chubbs told KXAN.

However, he said he remains worried about the inventory, as well as the cost.

He said an emergency box that costs about $5 to make right now could eventually cost $30 if they have to shift completely to a purchase model, rather than relying on food donations.

“I have every expectation that we will be able to be in this for a long haul. Now, will we be able to distribute as much food? That remains to be seen,” Chubbs said.

He added, “If we talked about what keeps me up at night, it’s access to food, and the ability to procure food.”

Food pantries also seeing a spike in demand

We also spoke with food pantries operated by local churches that partner with Central Texas Food Bank.

“We have lots of first-time visitors,” said Brad Highum, pastor at Abiding Love Lutheran Church.

Food Pantry at Abiding Love Lutheran Church (Photo Courtesy Brad Highum)

Highum said, “We have people from all walks of life, people whose entire world has turned upside down. It’s really challenging because there’s so much emotional energy and so much uncertainty and so much just raw fear.”

The church pantry gets food from the Central Texas Food Bank and distributes it to families. “We’re kind of the last mile of their extensive effort throughout this region,” Highum explained.

Chubbs said normally, partner organizations like smaller pantries distribute about 80% of the food bank’s food because the food bank serves 21 counties. It can’t travel to all 21 counties all at the same time.

Harvest Blessings Food Pantry, operated by Riverbend Church and Travis Heights Christian Outreach, also partners with the food bank.

Brian Rawson, Urban Ministry Pastor at Riverbend Church, told KXAN they’re open three days a week. “I think at this point we’re close to 1,200 families that we’re serving,” he said.

Rawson said with the COVID crisis, “we probably doubled our demand.”

Food boxes being assembled by Harvest Blessings Food Pantry (Photo Courtesy Brian Rawson)

“We rescue lots of food from major grocers in town, the Trader Joe’s, the Whole Foods of the world, the Starbucks and others, and we’ve seen a reduction in the amount of food that we’re rescuing, so we are having to depend on on our relationships with the Central Texas food Bank.”

Both pantries said they’ll continue to serve families in need, so they don’t have to go hungry.

“We’re going to do everything we can to at least take that worry off of our citizens and residents in the city,” Rawson said.

They said people can volunteer to assemble the boxes. They have processes in place to keep volunteers safe.

Highum said people can also donate directly to the food bank, and those who are in need shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to these food pantries.

“It’s not an issue of pride. It’s an issue of need, and it’s an issue of right. You deserve to eat, deserve to have food sufficient for you and your family,” he said.