Skyrocketing unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic has left many in the Spokane area unable to buy enough groceries for their families, and local food banks are planning for years of increased demand for assistance.
Nearly 700 families picked up boxes of produce and other items during a drive-thru distribution event Saturday at the Second Harvest food bank in Spokane, 1234 E. Front Ave.
More than 1,000 families received food during two other Second Harvest drive-thru events on April 22 in Spokane Valley and Coeur d’Alene, said Drew Meuer, the nonprofit’s vice president of philanthropy.
“We’ve so far been able to respond to the current surge,” Meuer said. “But we’re starting to evaluate how this is becoming our new normal.”
Second Harvest has shifted to a seven-days-per-week work schedule and is receiving help from 38 members of the Washington National Guard to address the sudden spike in food insecurity, Meuer said.
On Thursday, Second Harvest expects two truckloads of food to arrive at its headquarters in Spokane and the Tri-Cities from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ storehouses in Salt Lake City. Each truck is expected to bring about 21 tons of food, including pasta and canned goods.
But Meuer said more food will be needed. He compared the current situation to the economic downturn of 2008, which pushed the nation’s unemployment rate to 10% and caused a surge in demand for food assistance.
“It took several years for that number of people seeking food assistance to begin to drop to prerecession levels. We expect that this will be very similar, in that the recovery is likely to be slow and uneven,” Meuer said. “And for people who were struggling on the margins before it began, this crisis has likely wiped out any kind of safety net that they were operating with, in terms of savings or other financial resources.”
Meuer said Second Harvest is not encouraging people to collect food items for donation due to concerns about transmitting the novel coronavirus. He suggested people hold “virtual food drives” and donate money instead.
“That’s really what’s most needed at this point in time,” Meuer said, “because we’re able to transform those donated dollars into really efficient procurement of bulk produce, bulk dry goods and things like that.”
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