LEWISTON — Two of the area’s largest food banks are in need of donations as people affected by the coronavirus pandemic seek assistance.
Karen Vauk, the president and CEO of the Idaho Foodbank, said statewide the organization has experienced anywhere between a 10 to 50 percent increase of people utilizing its different locations.
“We do expect (the demand) to continue to increase as people are out of work and not knowing how long that is going to last,” Vauk said. “There is a lot of uncertainty right now, but we already see people whose incomes are affected. ... Statewide we are starting to feel some struggles in our food inventory.”
Steve Small, the program manager for the Community Action Partnership Food Bank in Lewiston, said donations were down this year even before the pandemic. The organization distributes perishable food items to as many as 200 families a day and provides more than 500 food boxes per month to families facing food insecurity.
“It’s understandable because people are probably trying to stock up on food themselves, so there are very few donations from the public,” Small said. “We’ve already ran out of a lot of canned food items.”
Small said the food bank is in particular need of canned soups and tomato products, which they “are desperately low on.”
Food banks are deemed essential, so even during the statewide shutdown, both organizations have continued to serve the community, although in a modified fashion.
The Idaho Foodbank is following social distancing requirements and has reduced the size of its volunteer groups. It has also switched to providing prepared food boxes to limit contact between people and supplies.
The Community Action Partnership Food Bank has eliminated almost all contact between its staff and volunteers, and the community. Customers are served outside, with proper social distancing precautions in place. People can pick up prepacked perishable food items from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. In order to pick up a food box, a different service the food bank provides, people must call in advance.
The organization’s volunteer numbers have also been affected. The Community Action Partnership Food Bank relies on around 200 volunteers annually, since there are only three paid staff members.
“At times, we are really short staffed,” Small said. “But we are getting some help in the area, so far anyway, from (Lewis-Clark State College students).”
Vauk said the Idaho Foodbank still has a lot of people engaged in volunteer efforts, but said that could change given Gov. Brad Little’s stay-at-home order.
“If we see a decline in that, we will be reaching out for other sources of support,” Vauk said. “We can’t do it without the volunteers.”
So far, the demand for services has stayed relatively normal at the Community Action Partnership Food Bank for this time of year, but Small said that will likely change.
“I’m sure as more business places close down, we are definitely going to see more demand and are preparing for that,” Small said.
Both organizations work to distribute food regionally as well. The Idaho Foodbank provides food boxes to its partner organizations and also has mobile food bank pantries for more remote areas.
The Community Action Partnership Food Bank serves approximately 15 smaller food pantries through its federal commodity program which gives out more than 500,000 pounds of food annually. So far, those pantries have reported that it’s business as usual, Small said, although some are preparing to see an increase in the number of people seeking services.
“They generally order from us once a month through the federal commodity program, but in anticipation that there may be more demand, some have placed larger orders so they are prepared,” Small said.
The food pantry in The Idaho Foodbank North Central branch in Lewiston, at 3331 10th St., is open Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Community Action Partnership Food Bank in Lewiston, at 124 New Sixth St., accepts donations from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and provides services from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Idaho Foodbank prefers cash donations at this time. The organization leverages those resources to buy items in bulk through certain distribution channels. To donate, or to view the mobile pantry schedule, go online to idahofoodbank.org.
“These are unusual times where individuals and families are going to find themselves short of food, and as much as people can help us keep the supply channel in place, we greatly appreciate that,” Vauk said. “Whether that’s donations of their time, or their dollars, or even their food to the local pantries, we are really going to need to pull together and help each other through this.”
Justyna Tomtas may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.