‘Unprecedented need:’ San Antonio Food Bank has seen 30% increase in demand since onset of COVID-19 pandemic

Food distribution has increased at food banks across the country, AP data shows

SAN ANTONIO – You could see it in the aerial pictures of the San Antonio Food Bank’s mega distribution event in April.

Thousands of cars carrying thousands of San Antonio families were lined up at Trader’s Village, some for the first time ever, to receive food amid a fraught economic period due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But that need for food has not subsided since the onset of the pandemic, not in San Antonio or in a majority of the food banks across the country, according to data obtained by the Associated Press.

An analysis of 181 food banks in Feeding America’s national network showed that food distribution rose by an average of 48.6% in the two quarters of 2020 after the start of the pandemic. Similarly, the San Antonio Food Bank has seen a 30% increase.

“It’s a story of unprecedented need and it’s a story of how do you meet that need when the demand far outpaces supply,” said Eric Cooper, President and CEO of the food bank. “The best way we can do it is just spread it a little thinner, ration the inventory that we have to try to make sure no one goes away empty-handed and no one goes hungry.”

The San Antonio Food Bank has managed to distribute food to more families despite seeing a dip in the amount of food being donated.

“We usually pick up from the convention center restaurants, hotels, caterers ... and now those businesses are closed and those donations are not flowing to us,” Cooper said.

Still, with some help from the community, the food bank is feeding 120,000 people a week, up from 60,000 before the pandemic started. This year, the food bank distributed 62,237,918 food items so far to families in need.

San Antonio had already ranked among major metropolitan areas as one of the highest poverty rates in the United States before the pandemic, Cooper said. Of those 181 food banks examined by the Associated Press, San Antonio’s food bank ranked 15th in average food distribution prior to the pandemic.

But Cooper said many nonprofit organizations and members of the community have stepped up to help, helping bridge the gap.

“Seeing the new partnerships come to the table, I mean, that’s what our city is all about. Our city is about coming together, it’s about sharing and caring.”

The need for food will continue for the next few months and maybe deep into next year as the economy hopefully begins to bounce back.

In the meantime, the food bank will be there to help families keep food on the table, Cooper said.

“I worry about just making sure people know that we love them, that we care about them, and that we’re going to have food for them,” Cooper said. “In the end, it’s going to be OK.”

How to help

There are several ways to help the San Antonio Food Bank feed hungry families.

You can donate food, money, or your time.

The most-wanted items the food bank is looking for include peanut butter, beans, chili, soups, cereal, rice, tuna, canned lunch meats, pet food, macaroni and cheese, full meals either canned or boxed, baby food, diapers and pop-top food items.

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