San Antonio Food Bank works to help people during difficult time

More people, strain on food supply is challenging the agency

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Food Bank announced Friday that the COVID-19 response has put a strain on the agency and its ability to help those impacted.

The agency’s head said that the number of families it helps has doubled.

“We’ve gone from feeding about 60,000 people a week to about 120,000,” Food Bank President and CEO Eric Cooper said.

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Cooper said the agency spent a lot of time helping people prepare for a possible shelter-in-place, but there were some things they did not expect.

“I don’t think we fully realized the school was going to close and be closed for so long,” Cooper said. “The loss of the breakfast and lunch program that’s offered in school has created an economic impact on the families we feed in addition to those who are now caught up in the downturn in the economy.

“All of us probably by now know a loved one that’s been laid off or hours were cut. It’s affecting so many businesses throughout our community and that economic impact is going to drive a lot of people to the food bank trying to meet their basic needs. Unfortunately, our inventory won’t be able to support that increased demand over time.”

Another challenge has been all of the protocols put in place during the COVID-29 response.

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The Food Bank has reduced the number of volunteers at its facility to comply with orders and social distancing, which has also caused a challenge in how food is distributed to the public.

“Lots of locations around our 16 counties do pop-up distributions and we’ve been using that as our strategy with COVID-19, because it works really well in helping people stay in their cars, getting them a lot of food and having them just drive through the distribution,” Cooper said. “We literally do hundreds of these and what we’ve seen in the last two weeks with the COVID-19 crisis is many of those distribution sites are getting overwhelmed. The need far outpaces the supply.”

The Food Bank has changed its strategy when it comes to distributions. Those in need will need to preregister with the Food Bank and a distribution site will be set up for people to pick up their food. The first distribution is scheduled for Tuesday at the Alamodome.

“If they come to the event and haven’t preregistered, they’ll be asked to," Cooper said. "They’ll be turned away and they’ll be asked to register. It doesn’t mean they won’t get food. We will do another distribution to accommodate those families that don’t come on Tuesday.”

Cooper said volunteers are needed, as well, especially when it comes to these centralized distribution sites.

“These county mega sites will take a lot of volunteers to run, and so volunteers can sign up on our website.”

Cooper said with so many people in need of food, the amount of food in its inventory is being reduced. But due to protocols in place, the agency isn’t accepting donations of nonperishable items. He said the best way to help is financially.

“We don’t want to create any additional strain on H-E-B and grocery retailers who are struggling to stock their shelves for customers that are able to shop,” Cooper said. “Once H-E-B gets back to normal, we will launch a food drive to help families affected by the COVID-19 crisis. And we need everybody’s help, but we’re asking folks to just give financially at this current moment and just waiting for an opportunity to donate food in the future.”

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