The Food Bank of Delaware has a long history of serving members of the Delaware community, with great success. Since the onslaught of COVID-19, the Food Bank has adjusted its operations to continue to serve those who need food assistance.
Aaron Stone, a volunteer coordinator at the Food Bank, said that the biggest change in the volunteer room was adhering to safety protocols, with social distancing the main priority.
“We had more people wanting to come in when everything was happening, but it was a matter of, ‘We can’t fit all these people in, so how do we do it?’” Stone said.
Prior to the pandemic, the Food Bank could hold about 20 people in a volunteer room. Kim Turner, the communications director for the Food Bank, said that sometimes as many as 20 to 30 volunteers from corporations would come for team building exercises.
“We had a lot of corporate volunteer groups that would send groups of volunteers as an opportunity to give back, but also as a team-building activity,” Turner said. “[Now] with all the capacity regulations and social distancing, there’s no way we can accommodate a group of 20 to 30 people in the volunteer room.”
Despite more shifts being added so volunteers can work while minding social distancing guidelines, Turner estimated that there may have been a slight decrease in the number of volunteers at the Food Bank due to the pandemic. However, more people worked at distribution centers directly giving people the food they needed and any other assistance requested.
Because the Food Bank has been receiving large amounts of food from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) since 2018, there was enough food to compensate for any losses.
“We definitely had the room to store the extra food, so we were okay when the pandemic hit, and then throughout the whole year, people have been very generous in donating food and money and their time, so we have been able to keep up with the demand,” Turner said.
Despite the lower number of volunteers, the demand for food assistance skyrocketed during the pandemic, so there was no way the Food Bank could close its doors. To meet the increase in demand, volunteer groups were spread out to the volunteer rooms, while some directly distributed food to people and others worked in the kitchen in shifts. Because the facilities are so big, volunteers said it wasn’t difficult to adjust.
“We had monthly mass distributions for food assistance, and they took place in each county, starting in March,” Stone said. “When they first started, they were super busy, but between gaining experience and utilizing the National Guard as well as the Delaware Department of Transportation, they became super efficient operations.”
At the peak of the Food Bank’s COVID-19 efforts, the organization was serving about 200 families every day, according to Turner. When using the mobile unit for drive-through pantries, the Food Bank would serve more than 2,500 households over the course of three hours. Numbers have since fallen to around 1,000 families served.
To support the Food Bank’s efforts, students and Delawareans can donate food or money to the Food Bank to support their advocacy efforts. Stone said that the best way for students to get involved is to volunteer at its Newark or Milford centers.
“Not only does the direct work support our operations, but it’s a great way to see the inside of the organization and what we’re doing and how it impacts the community directly,” Stone said. “Volunteering is one of the most successful ways to contribute.”
Senior Kailey Fossile’s favorite aspect of volunteering was meeting new people and talking with everyone, but since COVID-19 has lowered the number of volunteers, there has not been as much interaction in the rooms. Despite this, she continues to find value in the work she has done.
“Everything that they’re doing at the Food Bank is great,” Fossile said. “They have put in so many measures to make sure they can still do what they need to do.”
Nivi Arunkumar, who did not volunteer at the Food Bank before the pandemic, started to volunteer to get out of her apartment and do some good in the community.
“It hasn’t been as difficult because we’re all doing our own thing,” Arunkumar said. “Sometimes, we’re just sorting through donation boxes and other times we’re just doing assembly line work and we’re not together too often at all.”
The Food Bank also offers food assistance and other essential services to students on campus. To access these services, those interested can dial 211 to contact food pantries. Students can also check out Blue Hen Bounty, a food pantry located at St. Thomas’s Espiscopal Church on South College Avenue.