Greg Perry, an employee of the GraceWorks Cooperative in Franklin, Tennessee, asked what people who came to receive relief food needed on 9 April. This is a way to reduce social exposure that food banks have devised to keep staff and recipients safe. Photo: AP.
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Covid-19 17/4 in the World

Brooklyn Dotson needs to eat, but has yet to receive unemployment benefits after having to quit his job because of Covid-19.

So the 25-year-old girl made some money to buy gasoline, drove 48 kilometers to GraceWorks food aid warehouse in Franklin, Tennessee, USA. There, an employee wearing a mask, gloves loaded her car with relief food worth 350 USD.

“I don’t have any income, nor do I get food stamps, so any help is very valuable right now,” Dotson said while waiting in line at GraceWorks.

Greg Perry, a volunteer at GraceWorks Food Warehouse in Franklin, Tennessee, spoke to a recipient of relief food on April 9. Image: AP.

This food aid warehouse is always busy even when the economy is in the best development period. Covid-19 spurred a surge in demand for relief food when millions of people like Dotson had to take unpaid leave or be laid off.

“About 50% of the people who come here are new,” said Valencia A. Breckenridge, president and CEO of GraceWorks.

Demand soared, but many relief food banks were running out of supplies. Many restaurants, hotels, resorts are closed or reduced operations, so they can no longer provide food to the warehouse, while other suppliers are busy rearranging shelves. Farmers have shifted from shipping vegetables and meat in bulk to individual bags for each retail store.

“Difficulties are all around us,” said Katie Fitzgerald, executive director of Feeding America, the association that manages 200 food banks and 60,000 relief food stores nationwide.

Feeding America said member banks recently increased 98% of demand, with an average increase of 63%, operating costs also increased 95%.

The US Congress has increased emergency food assistance in the Covid-19 bailout, but Fitzgerald warned it could take months to reach localities, while food banks had to deal with it. Great needs in the near future. The $ 100 million that billionaire Jeff Bezos pledged to the association on April 2 was rolled out last week, she said.

“People ask what we most need? Need food and money,” said Nancy Keil, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank in Middle Tennessee.

People in cars line up at Traders Village and wait for the San Antonia Food Bank to distribute food on April 9. Photo: AP.

People in cars line up at Traders Village and wait for the San Antonia Food Bank to distribute food on April 9. Image: AP.

In addition to seeking to meet the spike in demand, food banks have to come up with new ways to distribute huge amounts of food while keeping both recipients and employees safe from the risk of nCoV infection.

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in California quickly built food warehouses after several of the 275 facilities shut down because of Covid-19, according to spokesman Keely Hopkins. Many new warehouses are serving hundreds of people every day, opening longer and using open spaces like parking lots to facilitate community spacing.

Staff dive in the warehouse to sort and pack food. The majority are elderly volunteers, at high risk for nCoV infection. To protect them, the food bank limited 10 people to a packing room.

The East Nashville Cooperative Board of Directors recommended closing because many elderly volunteers, including Judy Wahlstrom, who ran the program.

Wahlstrom, 70, refused to take a break, saying she always takes precautions like wearing gloves and masks, allowing only one person to choose food at a time.

“I thought to myself that if I were infected, it would be heavenly,” she said. “I don’t have to raise anyone. I think I have to try my best to open the food store and volunteers have the option to stay or work.”

At Oklahoma Food Bank, spokeswoman Cathy Nestlen said last year there were nearly 45,000 volunteers helping. Last year, to apply the best social spacing measures, employees also participated.

Nestlen said the bank, which acts as a food distribution center for hundreds of members, has moved to work six days a week this month and is considering working seven days a week if demand increases.

Laura Burbank, a GraceWorks volunteer in Franklin, pushed a food cart through the store shelves to bring it out to a family on April 9. Photo: AP.

Laura Burbank, a GraceWorks volunteer in Franklin, pushed a food cart through the store shelves to bring it out to a family on April 9. Image: AP.

Oklahoma was always the state that needed the most relief food in the United States before Covid-19 broke out. “The pandemic unravels that there are many households, not just in Oklahoma but across the country, who live off their wages,” she said. “When the family economy is risky, they almost immediately become people at risk of starvation.”

Food banks like Nestlen realize that strong demand may last for several months and that donations are now very important. Currently, any food they display is quickly flying off the shelf.

“Food that comes in from the back door will immediately arrive in front of the customer,” Courtney Vrablik, managing director of The Store, said. This is a supermarket created by singer Brad Paisley and his wife last month to provide free food for people in need in Nashville.

Hồng Hạnh (Follow AP)


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