Representatives of the local emergency food system, including food banks and pantries reporting up to 100% increases in demand in the past two weeks, said Thursday the system is preparing to continue to meet high needs during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The emergency food system — consisting of several food banks and pantries, meal distribution sites and shelters — has had to ramp up food supplies while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Michelle Orge, president and CEO of Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, said the food bank has had to make several changes to its service model to keep up with the increased need during the pandemic. Food is now being pre-packaged instead of offered in shopping style, and drive-up service is being provided.
Orge said the food bank, which traditionally relies on donations for 80% or more of the food it distributes, is now purchasing most of its food directly with financial support and partners from the community.
A coronavirus response fund, called the Care Box campaign, was started by the food bank with the goal of providing 100,000 boxes of food through mobile pantries and partner organizations during the next six to eight weeks. Orge said the campaign reached over 25,000 boxes in just over one week.
“We have to believe we can meet the demand because we have no other option but to keep up with it, that’s the reality,” she said.
Orge also said Second Harvest is receiving as many as five times the normal number of calls asking for assistance. United Way of Dane County said people who need help should call its 211 resource line, which will connect callers to basic needs and available relief services, including the closest emergency food providers.
Several of the food bank’s partner organizations — including Badger Prairie Needs Network, River Food Pantry and Middleton Outreach Ministry — are also stepping up to meet community needs by increasing the hours and reach of services provided, offering curbside pickup and more.
“This is really a story of collaboration and partnerships,” Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said. “I appreciate how resilient our local food system is and that we are able to keep delivering the food that people need even in tough times.”
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the county is also partnering with Second Harvest through the Alliant Energy Center, where food is being stored and packaged to help with the food bank’s space needs.
David Vobora, interim executive director of the coalition, said TEFAP is a federal program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture that brings about 250,000 pounds of food into the community every month. The coalition’s food bank distributes the food through a network of some 100 food pantries throughout south-central Wisconsin, including 57 in Dane County.
Orge said community support plays a key role during the pandemic, especially when social distancing is the current norm.
“It can be hard to find ways to give comfort, but I’m grateful that those of us in the emergency food network can provide comfort through food,” she said.
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