As volunteers rushed to load box after box of food into the trunks of waiting cars Tuesday morning, Salvation Army staff acknowledged they would likely run out of food in a matter of hours.
The line of cars snaked through the Spokane Valley Shopko parking lot stretching out of sight. More families parked in the far reaches of the lot waiting for the opportunity to get in line.
“I’m not surprised that people need assistance right now,” said Maj. Ken Perrine of the Salvation Army in Spokane. “Everybody I’ve talked to is not working or a senior.”
About four hours after starting the giveaway, volunteers ran out of food.
Food banks across the region have been stretched thin as the growing number of people out of work due to closures caused by COVID-19 turn to them for assistance. Perrine said use of the Salvation Army’s regular food bank had increased by 50%, and most area food banks have seen a similar increase in visitors or people they already serve now needing far more help.
Many in line waited an hour or more at the Spokane Valley food giveaway for a box of food and a $20 gift card to Safeway, such as Shannon and Josh Zinn.
The couple said they never expected to be in line at a food bank.
“It makes me feel bad having to use it,” Josh Zinn said.
Zinn graduated with a culinary arts degree just as most restaurants shut down and began laying off employees. His wife, Shannon, also had her hours as a child care worker at a nonprofit reduced as she has started to home-school their 9-year-old daughter.
Food from the event, plus another recent visit to a food bank, has given them the breathing room they need to keep up on other bills that have come up as they wait for the economy to improve.
“Really, anything helps,” Shannon Zinn said.
Others waiting, such as single mother Kathleen Hill, lost their jobs before the pandemic, and have struggled to find work or sign up for unemployment since.
She said not having to worry about food takes a weight off her shoulders. Having her children, who are ages 5 and 6, at home makes it difficult to focus on looking for work and applying for unemployment. She also has been dependent on services the school provided to assist with teaching and therapy for one of her children who is disabled.
“I can’t really look for work, or anything like that,” she said. “It’s really hard.”
She said the pandemic had made her worry that food banks and food giveaways could turn into chaotic scenes similar to Black Friday sales at department stores, but she was able to get in line and move through it fairly quickly, which was reassuring.
The giveaway was part of a larger food-related COVID-19 response partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Salvation Army.
Volunteers distributed 45,260 pounds of food to 2,215 people.
In addition to boxes of nonperishable food and the Safeway gift cards, people received fresh food from a refrigerated truck.
Other nonprofits and food banks in the area, such as Spokane Valley Partners, also have served more people.
Cal Coblentz, CEO of Spokane Valley Partners, said the nonprofit had given away more diapers and formula than it ever had, and had double the number of new families go through the food bank than normal.
He said even as the economy reopens, he doesn’t anticipate the needs will go down. Some jobs might not come back and once people run through their tax returns and stimulus checks, they will still have to pay many of the bills they deferred.
“We anticipate our real wave is going to happen in the fall,” he said.
For now, the Salvation Army and Spokane Valley Partners are focusing on providing the basics: food, energy assistance and preparing for other economic issues as they come.
Perrine urges families to keep relying on food banks like the Salvation Army for their immediate grocery needs while out of work and to focus on using the money they do have to pay bills.
“Please save your money for your rent, your power, your car payment and your car insurance,” Perrine said. “If you need food, come see us and we’ll help you out.”
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