This article was originally published by the Ohio Valley ReSource.
Food banks and pantries across the Ohio Valley are seeing spiked demand as an unprecedented surge of people continue to file for unemployment benefits, with food banks facing weeks long delays to get certain products. Meanwhile, some farmers are facing a financial crisis, sitting on excess food they can’t sell — food that could be directed to food banks and pantries.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $3 billion infusion to try to get surplus food to pantries. Those funds could eventually be put to use at pantries like one in west Kentucky.
Murray-Calloway County Needline Association Executive Director Tonia Casey had already seen demand increase for her food pantry before the coronavirus pandemic, when a local engine manufacturer began laying off hundreds of employees.
The mandated business closures due to the virus have only accelerated that demand. Her pantry has held drive-thru service to hand out food to the public.
“We ask four questions. One of the questions was ‘How many is in your home, how much do you make, your name and address.’ About 50% of them would cry,” Casey said. “They would be crying, going, ‘I just didn’t know what I was going to do.’ And you put the food in their car, and they’re just like ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’ It’s been bittersweet. It breaks my heart that they even have to ask because they’ve lost their job.”
Casey estimates she’s seen about a 30% increase in demand at her pantry, a demand she’s struggling to keep up with as she’s organizing hundreds of food packages to be distributed on a given day.
While she said her pantry’s supply has been replenished with community support and a shipment from the federal government, some food banks in the Ohio Valley are beginning to face delays in getting food amid the high demand.
“Product that I used to be able to order and get within a week or two weeks at max, is now four to six weeks. And then worst case scenario, six to eight weeks,” said Cynthia Kirkhart, Director of the Facing Hunger Food Bank in Huntington, West Virginia. “We have a network across the country of 200 food banks that are competing with everyone else to access especially what we refer to as dry product, the canned goods and shelf stable items.”