The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank’s storage warehouse on Choctaw Drive looks somewhat empty these days.
About half of the shelves in the 24,000-square-foot warehouse still hold boxes, but most of those boxes are empty. And the boxes that aren’t empty house items such as plastic bags and diapers.
The dire situation caused the food bank to issue a news release Thursday asking residents for any donations available.
In the release, president and CEO Mike Manning said the bank’s supplies are at their lowest since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Our community has always stepped up to help the Food Bank when it has needed it most,” Manning said. “We and the hungry we serve need you now more than ever to get through this shortage, especially with the peak of hurricane season still ahead of us.”
Manning said in a telephone interview that the Food Bank has looked as far as Pennsylvania for food sources.
“Our staff is frustrated that we don’t have food,” Manning said. “We’re trying to find food any way that we can.”
Two rows of shelves in the warehouse are completely empty. All that sits in the food bank’s freezer are a few pallets of fruit, along with several cases of watermelon delivered Thursday afternoon.
Manning said the freezer’s shelves are normally stocked to the roof.
“We have more boxes than we have food” right now, Manning said.
The Food Bank serves 125 agencies in the Greater Baton Rouge area, Manning said, such as St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and United Methodist Hope Ministries.
People who regularly visit those agencies for food can expect lower supplies, Manning said.
“Those most at risk in our communities are going to be at greater risk,” Manning said.
The low supply comes from increased demand and fewer donations from grocery stores, Manning said.
Summer is usually a difficult period in terms of demand because schools are out of session, he said.
Schools not only provide lunch to children of families in need, but they also host food drives. The lack of such efforts has compounded the problem of the shortage, Manning said.
But the weakened U.S. economy has diminished donations, Manning said.
Grocery stores, such as Capital City Produce, have worked out deals to send extra food to the Food Bank.
However, grocery stores are choosing to lower their inventories, which in turns lowers the amount of extra food available for food banks, Manning said.
Food donations are down nationally, Manning said.
“It’s purely a function of the economic situation,” he said. “They’re trying to be increasingly more efficient.”
Manning said the shortage has been brewing over time, but has only become a major problem in the past two years.
The Food Bank is looking at accepting food past its “best buy” date, Manning said.
A “best buy” date is a time when food reaches its peak freshness, Manning said.
It is not to be confused with an expiration date, when food is no longer safe to eat, he said.
Manning also said the Food Bank has seen a 15 percent increase in walk-in service within the past year.
However, “there’s not that much to give,” Manning said.