Food bank of Northeast Georgia

The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia on May 4, 2020, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

The demand for food has risen about 25% since COVID-19 began to influence daily life around March 13, said Chuck Toney, executive director of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.

Toney said on Thursday that the food bank’s inventory is doing well. The food bank has received fewer grocery store donations than normal and has begun ordering food a month in advance because of backlogs, but financial donations have increased, Toney said.

The food bank distributes food to more than 225 agencies in a 14-county area. These agencies then distribute this food to community members.

The food bank has been providing the partner agencies with more food than they ordered for no additional fee. Toney said in an email that while partner agencies have been seeing more people, they have been able to feed all of them.

In early April, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, donated $100 million to Feeding America, according to the Feeding America website. This money was distributed to the food banks within Feeding America. The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia’s share consisted of $465,000, according to a news release.

With this money, the food bank will purchase additional food, upgrade its distribution vehicles, improve warehouse equipment and offer cold and dry storage equipment to partner agencies, according to the release.

With the increase in demand for food in grocery stores, the food bank is experiencing a backlog in food it’s purchasing as well. After ordering, the food bank used to receive food shipments after seven to 10 days, Toney said. Now, orders could take up to six weeks to come in.

Sherry Grant, co-leader of iServe Ministries, a Jackson-based service organization that brings a monthly mobile food pantry to Athens, said iServe has not had any huge issues with food supply from the food bank.

The food bank suspended its volunteer program for safety reasons, Toney said. To assist with packing boxes, assembling bags of food for kids and going to mobile food banks, seven members of the Army National Guard are working with the food bank of Northeast Georgia.

Sgt. Sean Hayes, a 27-year-old real estate agent and member of the National Guard, has been working with the food bank for eight hours a day.

Though the volunteer program was suspended to keep people safe from COVID-19, Hayes said he understands the risks associated with his work. He and the other National Guard members are always wearing gloves and masks, especially when they’re out in the community, he said.

“I’m definitely grateful to be a part of the bigger mission, so the food bank can continue to have an impact on the community,” Hayes said. “I know it’s been feeding a lot of kids, a lot of elderly people and just a lot of people in need.”

Food donations from grocery stores dropped to 10% of usual levels around March 13, Toney said. The decrease in retail donations affected the agency shopping floor for about a week after March 13. Yet the food bank receives food from many outlets, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so it was comfortable with its inventory, Toney said.

The food bank is reimbursed by the federal government for its purchases, Toney said. The food bank supplemented the shopping floor with USDA products to take the place of donated food.

The food bank is still accepting donations.

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