The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in April was operating at 45% higher demand for food, and Executive Director Joe Arthur thinks May is likely following the same path.
But even as some Cumberland County retailers prepare to reopen, potentially bringing more people back into the workforce, the demand and need for food may not decrease.
That’s because with the arrival of June comes the end of most meal programs from school districts for families in need.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts continued to provide meals for students even though they were no longer in the classrooms. Some of those services will end soon, which could put a strain on already struggling food pantries.
Some organizations and businesses are already trying to help alleviate that strain.
On Wednesday, the Carlisle Family YMCA held a drive-thru food drive for items that will be donated to Project SHARE in Carlisle. Michelle Bell, marketing director for the Y, said the effort was because of Carlisle Area School District ending its food distributions for students.
“Many families will need to find other ways to replace that food each week,” she said in a news release. “So we are reaching out to our community to help us help our neighbors by donating food that will be delivered to Project SHARE.”
Those donations are heading to Project SHARE’s new Summer Feeding Program. Though the nonprofit food pantry is canceling its Lunch ‘N Learn program over health and social distancing concerns for the children, it is replacing it with the Summer Feeding Program to provide meals to any child in the Carlisle community, picking up where Carlisle school district will leave off.
Project SHARE CEO Robert Weed said the goal is to serve up to 500 children through the program, about four to five times the number of children who would have been served by the Lunch ‘n Learn program.
The Summer Feeding Program will distribute food once a week, where each child will receive five days worth of breakfast and lunch products, along with a weekend backpack of food, Weed said.
“It’s seven days worth of meals to children in our community,” he said. “One of the reasons why we’re able to make that jump in numbers ... is because of the generosity of the community so far.”
The program is open to any child in the Carlisle community, and the nonprofit’s targeted start date is June 12.
While community donations are helping food pantries, larger organization and business donations are helping the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, which provides food to pantries in its 27-county territory.
Area wards for the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints helped organize a shipment of 40,000 pounds of food from the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, which was delivered Wednesday morning.
“We’re pleased to make this food donation from the church’s storehouse to help our neighbors, and we look forward to strengthening our involvement with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank,” said Harrisburg Stake President Rhett Hintze, who serves as the senior leader of the church in the Harrisburg area. “A key mission of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints is to help those in need throughout the world, regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs or circumstances.”
The church said in a news release that 15 truckloads of commodities from its network of bishop’s storehouses are being delivered to food banks and other charitable organizations weekly across the country. The trucks are filled with nonperishable foods, such as canned soups and fruits, peanut butter, beans, flour, sugar, cake mixes, pasta and powdered milk.
Rutter’s also announced last week that it has donated $50,000 worth of food and beverages to the food bank since the beginning of March, with items including packaged meals for families.
In addition to donations, Arthur said the food bank is purchasing food daily from vendors. With the spike in the amount of food it was ordering and due to social distancing guidelines for volunteers, the food bank coordinated with the state to use part of a larger facility for packaging and sorting dry goods to be delivered.
“We’re packing about 5,000 boxes a day,” Arthur said. “We have about 50 to 100 volunteers in a day, depending on how many packaging lines we need.”
With the increase in demand, Arthur expressed gratitude for those who have helped either monetarily or with donations as the food bank continues to buy food directly from grocery stores.
“We’re certainly thankful for what we’ve received,” he said. “We’re thankful for all of it.”
The food bank is also getting help from the federal and state government.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, made possible by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, purchases agricultural products from farmers and distributes up to $3 billion of that food to those in need.
According to the USDA, the Agricultural Marketing Service’s Commodity Procurement Program will purchase about $100 million per month in fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat products, each, and distributors and wholesalers will provide a pre-approved box of those items to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits.
Arthur said the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank is one of the organizations that will receive those boxes. He said he is in contact with each school district in the 27-county territory and with organizations that help youths to coordinate who will receive the food boxes.
Though the state already has a similar Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System, which helps both farmers and food banks, Arthur said it’s particularly important this year to have access to this food and government funding because some summer activities that families have relied on to offer meals may not be held this year.
“We should get the boxes of food any day now,” Arthur said Tuesday. “We have a new plan, but it’s more robust than in the past. Our job is to make sure we have food to support families.”
Weed said Project SHARE is one of the food pantries that will receive the food boxes, which he expects to start handing out at the nonprofit’s Farm Stand next week.
“We should be able to give out a gallon of milk to every family every week, with all the produce that comes with it,” he said.
Weed said the Farm Stand is already seeing a large turnout for vegetables, fruit, bread and milk, with 325 to 330 families picking up food compared to 190 to 200 families previously.
It’s that continued effort by Project SHARE and other food pantries that has Arthur optimistic about what they will continue to handle through the pandemic.
“We’re very thankful for our partner agencies that work in the communities. This is a team effort with all of us,” he said.
Email Naomi Creason at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @SentinelCreason
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.