For the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, the coronavirus outbreak is creating challenges similar to what floods and hurricanes have brought in the past.
The need for food has increased because of quarantines and higher unemployment due to businesses closing, and some of the charities that distribute food have stopped operations, said Mike Manning, president of the food bank.
“The majority of the agencies that have closed, their volunteers are in the most at-risk category as senior citizens,” Manning said. “They’re taking the abundance of caution of protecting their volunteers as opposed to exposing them to risk. So, we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to address those food distributions to the people who need that food.”
Through various programs, the food bank distributes free of charge donated food to over 115 member agencies in the 11-parish greater Baton Rouge area, according to its website.
By midweek, 13 agencies — roughly 10% of the Food Bank’s partners — had suspended operations. Although two organizations that had closed have since reopened, Manning anticipates others will shut down when, as expected, more area people are discovered to have contracted the disease.
The nonprofit organization is coordinating with the remaining agencies to create drive-through food distribution points that minimize social interaction that might further spread the virus, Manning said.
He hopes to have the drive-thru sites operating sometime next week.
“We have to look at the logistics of coordinating it so we don’t significantly impact traffic,” he said. “It’s a much more complicated process than us just showing up and giving out food.”
In the meantime, the staff at the food bank is taking precautions to keep its workers and the food it distributes safe.
Manning said the staff has increased cleaning and sanitizing at its warehouse and has altered how its volunteers work, requiring them to wear gloves, work in smaller groups and stay farther apart. This protects the workers and helps insure that the food that leaves the warehouse is not contaminated.
“It needs to get to the people, because the people who need it, a large portion of our distribution is seniors, and they’re not supposed to get out, go around and go shopping,” Manning said. “They’re already depending on us because they’ve outlived their fixed income retirements.”
Manning doesn't think the problem is going to get better anytime soon.
“It’s really an evolving and emerging problem that’s going to significantly increase over the near term,” he said.
Here’s how you can help:
DONATE: $1 could help provide three meals. Make a donation at brfoodbank.org/give/funds/ to help support the food bank's emergency response and readiness. Call (225) 359-9940 to make a donation over the phone.
VOLUNTEER: The food bank needs volunteers to continue its regular food distribution, as well as any potential increased demand for emergency food. Currently only those age 16 and older can volunteer. Sign up at volunteer.brfoodbank.org/calendar or call (225) 359-9940.