Food Bank Operators Brace For A Busy Month
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As unemployment remains high, families across the country have turned to food banks to make ends meet. So far, the nonprofits have been pretty good at keeping up with surging demand, but August poses one of the biggest challenges yet. Texas Public Radio's Paul Flahive says two big changes have food banks bracing.
PAUL FLAHIVE, BYLINE: At the San Antonio Food Bank, a dozen National Guard members pack baked goods donated from a local grocer. They stack the boxes on two quickly growing pallets. The guard does this every weekday morning in San Antonio. In the afternoons, they often distribute the food in triple-digit temperatures. Other Guard members working on the Texas-Mexico border in Presidio were packing food boxes into trunks and truck beds of hundreds of hungry people's vehicles. Texas' 21 food banks struggled to find volunteers. People are scared to contract COVID. The National Guard has been placed in about half the state's food banks to offset that shortage. The guard replaced nearly all the volunteers for the West Texas Food Bank, says Chief Program Officer Kelly Dirden.
KELLY DIRDEN: The Guard has been amazing. We will have to go back to the drawing board when we lose them and see what we're going to do with volunteers. The last four months have been really challenging, but going forward the next 30 to 50 days, it's going to be even more challenging.
FLAHIVE: More challenging because not only is the National Guard departing soon, but Federal Unemployment funds are scheduled to end, which could push the demand for food banks even more. Many are pushing to extend the extra federal funding.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTEST ORGANIZER: It is essential that we get the pandemic unemployment relief passed.
FLAHIVE: A protest organizer speaks to a small group gathered in Austin earlier this month. These people want to extend the $600 unemployment. In the crowd, Mark McKim says he was laid off as a substitute teacher and hasn't been able to find work.
MARK MCKIM: It's not that I haven't been trying. I've applied to over 25 jobs, and I haven't been able to get any of them, even after interviewing for a couple and, you know, didn't get it.
FLAHIVE: McKim says he'll be turning to food banks and pantries for help.
ERIC COOPER: Those workers are now living on 65% of what they used to make pre-COVID to keep their household afloat.
FLAHIVE: Eric Cooper runs the San Antonio Food Bank. His operation saw 10,000 families show up to a single distribution in April. Cooper expects another spike in coming weeks.
COOPER: They're going to be looking for ways to make up that shortfall. And I would foresee longer lines at our distributions.
FLAHIVE: Food banks in this state are already giving away twice the amount they usually do. According to Celia Cole with Feeding Texas, the state's food banks are feeding 390,000 families weekly.
CELIA COLE: There have been a couple of instances recently where, due to some of the volunteer issues we talked about, labor challenges, just haven't been able to get everyone through the line quickly enough. And so we had to shut down before meeting the entire need.
FLAHIVE: Cole is frustrated that there hasn't been more federal help. She'd much prefer Congress put more money in people's pockets, so they can wait in the checkout line instead of a food line. For NPR News, I'm Paul Flahive in San Antonio.
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