As one might imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic may cause people to need more food.
To meet that need, the Northern Illinois Food Bank needs more volunteers.
And not just because more people will need more food.
“Over 500 volunteers canceled last week for shifts they signed up for over the next four weeks,” said Elizabeth Gartman, communication manager for Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva. “We actually need more volunteers than ever to get the food ready and get the food out.”
Gartman said plans, so far, are to keep the mobile food pantries operating, since many people rely on them.
“Our agencies are trying to find ways to still provide the food and follow the health and social protocols – the social distancing – to be able to do both at the same time,” Gartman said.
For instance, food pantries may extend their hours, add more days and/or deliver boxes food directly to people’s vehicles, Gartman said.
Volunteers at food pantries also may come out to the clients’ vehicles, take their food orders and then “shop” and pack the food for them, she added.
Gartman said because of the high volume of food Northern Illinois Food Bank distributes, the food bank works very closely with partner agencies.
“Typically we serve 1.2 million meals a week,” Gartman said. “Last year we served more than 69 million across a 13-county service area.”
Gartman said the food bank already has seen an increased need and feels even that “will pick up soon.”
“Folks have lost their jobs and schools are closed now,” Gartman said. “Any change in the amount of hours people are able to work means a change in income and ability to put food on the table. That’s the biggest thing we know will happen.”
Families who depend on school backpack programs to supplement meals also may need additional food during this time, she said.
Gartman said monetary donations are especially valuable at this time, even more than donations of actual food products.
“We’re able to turn every dollar that is donated into $8 of groceries,” Gartman said. “Because of our relationships with the food industries, we can stretch a dollar further than you can stretch it.”
The other big need is, of course, more people to help distribute food.
“If people are healthy and feeling good and comfortable with coming out and helping to make a difference, we would love to have them volunteer with us,” Gartman said.
Last year, 24,000 people volunteered 136,000 hours of their time for the Northern Illinois Food Bank, Gartman said, adding that the food bank could not distribute that much food without so many people helping.
“So many of our volunteers are seniors and a lot of them are being careful since they’re part of that at-risk population,” Gartman said.
Know more – If you need food
Visit the Northern Illinois Food Bank website at solvehungertoday.org. Resources, including local food banks, meal tips and the SNAP program are under “Get Groceries.”
Be sure to check out the food pantry finder. Simply put in your ZIP code to see pantries near you. Or call 844-600-7627.
The food bank website also has information on the coronavirus, resources for food pantries and other food programs and information and best practices for nutrition professionals.
Call 630-443-6910 and ask for the volunteer team.
Visit the Northern Illinois Food Bank website at solvehungertoday.org. Under “Get Involved” is a variety of ways to help, including ways individuals and corporations can donate.