Updated: Jul 28
Demand for food from the Anne Arundel County Food Bank has increased over 143 percent in the last 11 weeks over the same time last year according to one estimate.
“We're actually giving out more food than we had in the beginning (of the emergency),” said Susan Thomas, the food bank’s executive director. “In the past 11 weeks we gave out 621,000 pounds of food. And typically at this time of year would be closer to 85,000 pounds per month.
“We're finding that there's more agencies that are needing help. There's more people that are still turning up at the pantries that might have been okay for a little while, but now anything anytime you're going over financial strain for a period of time eventually you need help.”
Thomas said at the approximately 150 food distribution locations in the county 50 percent of the people receiving food are new users of the service.
She said the pandemic has been a “new type of emergency.” When it first hit in March the food bank had to cope with multiple impacts. The organization’s number of volunteers plummeted because most of them were older adults who were considered particularly vulnerable to the virus.
Some food pantries had to close and other ones were opened. Within the first couple weeks of the pandemic demand went up 330 percent, Thomas said. They were fortunate to meet that need with the help of the Seventh Day Adventist Disaster Relief Program.
They have gone from an organization that collected food from donors through food drives as well as made procurement purchases, to one that now relies mostly on purchasing. Most of the major food drives had been canceled due to COVID-19.
And even the procurement process has been changed due to the emergency.
“The stores have had limits on how much they can actually bring into the stores,” Thomas said. “We don't want to take away from the stores from people that are able to purchase. So we've actually been going to the distributors that supply the chains with the food. I've never spent this much money in my life.”
So far supply has been mostly meeting demand, she said. The United States Department of Agriculture, county and state government had stepped in to help with additional funding and the public has also been generous as more neighbors have come to be in need.
“We're very fortunate that we're able to do this and that we're in the position,” Thomas said. “And the county residents have been phenomenal with their donations and just willingness to help. So we're very fortunate that we live in such a great county that people are really trying to take care of each other.”
They’re also looking ahead and preparing for any impact from the coming hurricane season and any potential second wave of COVID-19 infections in the fall.
But right now, perhaps the biggest need on the horizon will be residents who need to get food from the food bank because they will soon be facing a back log of bills.
Many households are looking at eviction prohibition orders being removed. Some may face increased debt due to rent and other bills that have piled up.
Thomas said she learned it can usually take six months to a year for a residents to dig out out of such a financial barrier, from her experience at the food bank.
“I know people that have not been able to work and not been able to make those payments,” she said. “Once they get back to work, they've got to get caught up on all of those back bills to make sure they have a roof over their head. And that's why we want to make sure that we have the pantries readily stocked with food so we can provide them with the food that they need during these times.”