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Food banks need younger volunteers, more donations as unemployment skyrockets

Salvation Army Major Ken Perine looks over food boxes packed and ready for delivery inside the SA food bank Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2020. An increase in daily requests for help, which have increased from around 75 to around 120 each day, reflect the number of families who have been hit hard by layoffs caused by the downtown in the economy under shutdown because of the coronavirus. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Local food banks are in a bind: They are serving far more people and are doing it with fewer resources, as more people are out of work and the larger, older volunteer base stays home to protect itself from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Salvation Army’s food bank is serving at least 30% more people than it did before widespread shutdowns were implemented to prevent the virus’ spread.

Second Harvest and Spokane Valley Partners are also seeing an uptick in new faces at their food banks, but have received fewer donations as churches stop holding in-person services, restaurants close and retailers run short of basic supplies.

“Like most social service agencies, we’re demonstrating a lot of flexibility right now,” said Jill Strom, interim development director for Spokane Valley Partners.

Strom said the organization hadn’t broken down the number of new clients and reduction in donations. She noted her group needs younger volunteers and monetary donations to purchase supplies directly from manufacturers, instead of processing and quarantining donations for several days before it can sort them and distribute them to the public.

“We convert cash to much more than what a normal person would spend at the grocery store,” she said.

“The same goes with diapers.”

The organization normally receives between 30% and 50% of its diaper donations from a spring diaper drive, which was recently postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Salvation Army normally serves around 75 families a day, but that number recently rose to between 90 and 120 families a day.

Maj. Ken Perine, who leads the local Salvation Army, said the shelter has had an influx in donations but is short of basic necessities, which many patrons can’t buy at the store because of shortages.

“Those who bought 42 packs (of toilet paper) from Costco should consider donating those to the Salvation Army,” Perine said. “The folks that we’re serving have very limited income and have been laid off from work. They need that stuff, too.”

Drew Meuer, senior vice president of philanthropy at Second Harvest, which supplies food banks in 21 Eastern Washington counties and five Idaho counties, said many food banks across the Inland Northwest find themselves in similar circumstances.

“There’s just an increased need for assistance of all types in this environment,” Meuer said.

Meuer said many over 55 or who are immunocompromised have stopped volunteering and that food banks need people who are not at risk of serious COVID-19 complications to volunteer.

All three food pantries are storing donated food for several days before making it available to the public to reduce the risk of unintentionally spreading COVID-19. Meuer said volunteering and donating are the best ways to get involved.

He said the food pantry can turn every dollar donated into five meals.

All three food banks are also accepting donations online and ask donors to mark that their donations are for the coronavirus response. Contact information for how to get involved can also be found on their websites.