DC-area food pantries need help in order to keep helping

A lot of people are facing tough times right now, and area food pantries are seeing that in agonizing terms. More and more people who live in the D.C. area are turning to them for help, at the same time that much less food is being donated than usual.

“That comes through both in terms of calls … that have tripled in recent weeks,” said Radha Muthah, the CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, as well as “partners reaching out to us from our network to say they need more food.”

She said other food pantries they don’t often work with are also turning to them for help.

“We’re hearing from partners [about] anywhere from a 30 to 300% increase in terms of the number of clients that are coming to them,” said Muthiah. Those clients are also asking for more food than usual.

The story is similar around the region.

The food pantry at Our Lady Queen of Peace, in Arlington, is seeing 96% more families coming through its weekly food pantry every Wednesday compared with a month ago.

At the Anne Arundel County Food Bank, there’s a more than 200% increase in the number of people coming for help. But Susan Thomas, the executive director there, said some pantries are seeing 500% increases.

“Fifty-one percent of them are new clients that have never had to access a food pantry before,” she said. More than 150,000 pounds of food has been given out over just the last two weeks.”

But supplies are starting to decline, and replenishing the shelves at food banks and food pantries is becoming harder.

“Food donations have declined considerably, about 75% in recent weeks,” said Muthiah. “We count on food donations from retailers and wholesalers.”

The run on grocery stores in recent weeks is leaving them with less inventory to donate than normal, Muthiah said.

Thomas agreed: “Our retail rescue has dropped off significantly. We used to receive probably seven or eight trucks a day that would go out and pick up food from the stores, which unfortunately, they don’t have it to donate right now.”

That has the Anne Arundel Food Bank trying to buy as much food as possible, too, but Thomas said prices are fluctuating, in some cases dramatically, and the supplies they do order are taking longer to arrive.

The Capital Area Food Bank is trying to overcome a similar obstacle.

“Last week we purchased 45 truckloads of food to be able to meet this growing demand,” said Muthiah. “That’s the entire number of truckloads that we would have purchased over the course of the last year.”

It’s a situation that both organizations say will remain dire for a long time.

More Coronavirus News

Between the virus itself and the resulting economic slowdown, “we see this going on for quite some time to come,” said Muthiah.

While food pantries are in dire need of new supplies, the food banks that help fill those pantries say money or food will help them keep providing what they can.

The Anne Arundel County Food Bank hopes to set up four new collection bins throughout the county next week to help supplement the two collection sites already in operation.

“The need is still going up,” said Thomas, noting the increasing unemployment numbers in recent weeks. “I think it will continue until the pandemic levels off and we’re able to get back to normalcy.”

For the Capital Area Food Bank, your money and your time are badly needed. The money will go to help buy food that will go directly into kitchen cabinets around the region. But volunteers are also needed to help bag up that food, with assurances that safe social distancing is implemented.

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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