The day before Thanksgiving, Lana Lopez was “in leggings and sweating,” preparing to start loading crates of food into hundreds of vehicles expected to line up outside the Aurora Community Church of Colorado.
Lopez is the coordinator of the Church’s grocery pantry distribution, which takes place on the second and fourth Wednesday of every month.
“You’d be surprised how much food we put in these boxes,” Lopez said. “These boxes are heavy. We train well. “
The workloads were particularly heavy due to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of cars approaching varies from 250 to 300 per distribution. The numbers have risen again after restrictions on activities and events were eased, Lopez said.
Similar to Food Bank of the Rockies, which partnered with the church and over 800 other organizations in Colorado and Wyoming, Lopez sees many people who never went to the pantry before the pandemic.
“At the height of COVID, about 40% of the people served have never needed food aid before. We still continue to see people who have not previously gone to a food bank or pantry for help, ”said Erin Pulling, president and CEO of the Denver Rocky Mountain Food Bank.
Like the Community Church of Colorado, the food bank continues to meet strong demand. Pulling said Food Bank of the Rockies’ distribution volumes rose 55-60% in the midst of the pandemic and hovered 10-15% above pre-pandemic levels.
The latest challenge for food banks and pantries is rising inflation and rising food prices. Food banks across the country are feeling the impact of inflation and supply chain disruptions, the Associated Press reported.
“We saw our prices for ground beef, which is such a staple food, increase by 27% last year. Vegetable oil rose in price by 54%. Canned fruits are up 30%, ”Pulling said.
Freight costs are increased by 25%. Pulling said the food bank has become more efficient, allowing him to distribute enough food to four families for every dollar donated because he buys food in truckloads. Most of the food is donated.
“But we still need funds to bring this food in, for transportation costs, fuel and our labor, and for inventorying this food and getting it into our distribution system,” Pulling said.
The Farmer’s Food Crate for Families program, launched by the USDA in 2020, ended in May. Pulling said the program provided about 30% of the food bank’s provisions for the year.
“The net effect of all of these factors has meant more than threefold increases in our food spending. We now spend nearly $ 1 million every month on food, three times what we spent in 2019, ”Pulling said.
The Food Bank has ordered 7,000 turkeys and nearly 6,000 turkey breasts for Thanksgiving this year. They were distributed along with the scraps to hundreds of food outlets and pantries.
The Food Bank is also working to distribute more fresh produce and “culturally sensitive food”, Pulling said.
Financial and technical assistance from Google was a significant incentive. Food Bank of the Rockies is one of 20 food aid organizations across the country to receive a $ 50,000 grant from the tech giant.
Google has also worked with the food bank over the past year to help optimize shipping routes and provide technical support. The company’s chief commercial officer, Philip Schindler, said in a blog post that Google has formed a team to tackle the food waste and food insecurity issues that have worsened during the coronavirus crisis.
Google has expanded its food cans and pantry information in Google Search and Maps, and has developed new business profiles for food cans and canteens. Another initiative aims to make it easier to find information about the federal supplementary feeding and assistance program by providing links to state guidelines and applications to search for “SNAP benefits” or the name of a local program.
“This is a very effective grant at a time when Food Bank of the Rockies is more dependent than ever on community support and financial gifts,” Pulling said of the Google money. “This will allow us to distribute 200,000 meals.”
The grants recognize innovative food banks, and Google has screened hundreds of nonprofits to select recipients, Emily Ma, head of Food for Good, said in a statement.
“The Food Bank of the Rocky Mountains is constantly introducing new and innovative ways to deliver food to the people who need it, and we are proud to support their work,” added Ma.