A year into pandemic, local food banks see huge increase in demand, need for volunteers

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The coronavirus pandemic is now nearing the one-year mark in Kansas City. It was last March when health departments and various government agencies issued a “shelter in place” order forcing businesses to close, leaving thousands in the metro without work. 

Food insecurity remains high, and Harvester’s, along with hundreds of local food banks, have seen huge increases in demand.

The lines at food pantries like Mimi’s in Riverside are still long. 

Brenda Schrack is grateful for the continued assistance that it brings her to tears. Volunteers who load her car with groceries have become friends. 

“It’s means a lot to me and my family. It’s been hard with COVID. My husband lost his job. It’s helped me to get things, so I don’t have to buy them at the store. It’s just a good place. Everybody here is just awesome,” Schrack said.

The latest statistics released by Feeding America, a nationwide network that runs more than 200 food banks, shows that in Kansas City, about one in seven adults and 1 in 5 children are food insecure. It is even worse in other parts of the county and in rural areas that don’t have access to food pantries.

Kelly Catterson, the director of Mimi’s, said they are seeing people who have been out of jobs who are just now getting employed.

“We are seeing parents who had to stay home and take care of their children because the school was shut down. They also have a need of pantry because they’ve lost some income in their household,” Catterson said.

And they are seeing plenty of people who have never been in a food line before.

Harvester’s Food Bank is in the midst of a sustained spike, nearing 12 months of providing up to 40% more food to area pantries then they did at this time last year. Harvester’s serves an astounding 760 pantries in 26 counties across Kansas and Missouri. 

“We’re distributing more pounds a week than we ever did before,” said Gene Hallinan, Harvesters communications manager.

And they are doing it with fewer volunteers.  Many of the pre-COVID volunteers were students or senior citizens, people who couldn’t come during the pandemic. 

“There were times we just didn’t have any volunteers come in. We actually had employees come in to do some sorting just to get the food out,” Hallinan said.

Even though food donations at the familiar Harvester’s barrels in area grocery stores is also down, several large corporate and celebrity donations have offset the crisis. The problem now is, no one knows how long the effects of the coronavirus will continue to impact area food pantries and the people they serve. 

“We are very hopeful, but it really could take years. We really don’t know,” Hallinan said.

There are a couple ways to help if you are able.  You can donate online financially to Harvesters or directly to the food pantry in your area.  You can donate non-perishable groceries or hygiene products, and if you are able, Harvesters and most food pantries desperately need volunteers. 

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