Food Bank prepares to buy more supplies as coronavirus limits grocery store donations

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Central Texas Food Bank will have to start buying more food to stay stocked as donations from grocery stores fall amid the new coronavirus outbreak.

Contributing to the supply chain for about 250 food pantries across 21 counties, the Food Bank typically relies on big donations from supermarket chains to keep its warehouse full. Now that central Texans are clearing the shelves at their local stores, the chains don’t have as much to donate.

As a result, the organization is asking for more monetary donations to be able to buy the food it needs. The food bank is accepting donations here.

“Just because there’s a pandemic, that doesn’t mean that there are any fewer hungry people out there,” said Derrick Chubbs, president and CEO of the Central Texas Food Bank.

Another hit to the Food Bank: Reggae Fest canceled the event planned for April. The festival is one of the Food Bank’s biggest yearly fundraisers, bringing in about $200,000 for operations annually.

food bank volunteers
Volunteers pack boxes of food at the Central Texas Food Bank on Monday, March 16, 2020. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

H-E-B stepping in

H-E-B announced Monday it was donating 15 truckloads of food to organizations around Texas that provide meals for people in need. The Central Texas Food Bank will get one truckload Tuesday.

The Food Bank will also receive a share of $1.2 million the grocery chain donated to Feeding Texas, which supports food pantries and other organizations that fight hunger.

“We are grateful to H-E-B for its support,” Feeding Texas CEO Celia Cole said in a news release announcing the donation. “Together we will ensure no Texan goes hungry during this public health crisis.”

Changes at food pantries

It’s a much-needed investment for food pantries. As school districts around the area cancel classes until at least April, that will mean more families showing up to place like the St. Ignatius Food Pantry in south Austin. “The kids are home,” said the pantry’s volunteer co-director, Sirene Brunell. “They run out of food quickly.”

A volunteer at St. Ignatius Food Pantry grabs a can of food off the shelf on Monday, March 16, 2020. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

Her organization has a decent stock of supplies, enough to last about six weeks at current demand, but they’re making changes to how they operate. The pantry usually serves donuts and coffee inside as people wait for bags of groceries, bus passes and prescriptions.

Now, the door to the building is locked, and everyone waits outside for a volunteer to deliver those supplies. Brunell worries about those volunteers, most of whom are older and more at risk to contracting the new coronavirus. “They’re handling the bags that the people give us, they’re handling the food that we get delivered.”

They’ll keep serving despite the risk, though, she said, because “times are tough, and hey, if they need food, we’re here.”

As businesses change their hours or shut down completely, service industry employees will lose paychecks or their jobs. Food pantries are already starting to see small spikes in need, and Chubbs doesn’t see that ending any time soon.

“There is no doubt in my mind this need is going to increase considerably over the next few weeks,” he said.

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