Food pantries ‘figuring out how people get fed’ in pandemic

Coronavirus

Requests for food assistance 20% to 30% higher than just 10 days ago

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Nationally more than 3 million filed for unemployment in the last week. Between Oregon and Washington, about 210,000 people filed. With so many people out of work, many are reaching out for food assistance for the first time.

The Northeast Emergency Food Program in Northeast Portland generally holds their food pantry inside a church. Now, to maintain social distancing during the pandemic, the food pantry was held in a parking lot outside.

For 2 hours anyone in need could walk up or drive up to recieve food boxes including fresh produce, dry goods and meat.

he Northeast Emergency Food Program in Northeast Portland has seen in spike in demand since the pandemic began, March 26, 2020 (KOIN)

The group, part of the Oregon Food Bank Network, is seeing numbers of people like they’ve never seen before.

The pantry operates 3 days a week at 4800 NE 72nd. On a typical Saturday they see about 100 families. Last Saturday there were more than 600.

Oregon Food Bank: Find food

“Food is a most basic resource and even though it seems bleak and hard right now this is still the richest country in the world,” said A’Jay Scipio with the Northeast Emergency Food Program. “We are going to figure out how to make sure that our people get fed.”

“We’re seeing a lot of new faces, a lot of people who never even dreamed that they would access a food program,” Scipio said. “We’re also seeing organizations who are shopping for their clients so people who weren’t able to come out and access our services.”

She said they even have a volunteer coordinator now who schedules people “so we know how many people we have.”

“Were’re making all of our resources stretch as far as we can possibly stretch it, but stilll make sure that everything we put out is quality,” she said.

A worker at Northeast Emergency Food Program in Northeast Portland during the pandemic, March 26, 2020 (KOIN)

Susannah Morgan, the CEO for the Oregon Food Bank, told KOIN 6 News requests for food assistance are about 20% to 30% higher than they were just 10 days ago. They’re prepared to meet the emergency need, but if the coronavirus crisis goes on for weeks and months, they need to replace that food.

“We are extremely busy right now. At our main warehouse here in NE Portland we, at any given time, have 4 million pounds of food on the floor. So we are well prepared to be able to meet an emergency need,” Morgan said. “But if this goes on for weeks and weeks and weeks we’re going to need to replace that food. So we’re working with the government, we’re working to purchase food, we’re working to fill that in anticipation of higher need going on for many weeks yet to come.”

Right now they’re asking for donations of money as well as low-risk, healthy volunteers.

“Right now we need two things. First we need money. We’re going to be turning that into food,” she said. “Food drives are not a good option right now because that food needs to be handled and touched. It’s just not as safe in a pandemic.But money we can turn into truckloads straight from manufactures or growers.

“And second we need healthy, low risk volunteers at Oregon Food Bank and at partner agencies across our system.”

Scipio said many first-timers show sadness, fear, people who are really unsure.

“But by the time they get to the end of the line I see a lot of gratefulness, I see kids that are excited, I see people who are thankful, I see people who actually have hope. I see people who are like OK, I may not be able to do everything I need to do, but I can eat.”

SNAP recipients can now buy groceries online

Oregonians getting SNAP benefits can now buy groceries online from Walmart and Amazon, Oregon DHS officials said Thursday.

The retailers moved up their plans to include online food shopping to help those who have trouble getting to a store.

If your work hours are reduced or you lose your job, you may become eligible for SNAP if you meet eligibility requirements. You can apply for SNAP benefits without visiting an office. Apply online at OHP.Oregon.Gov

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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