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Food banks see supply cuts and people who never needed them before

Distributing food during the pandemic is now less personal, involving "thank you's" mouthed through car windows.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — During this pandemic, more and more people are asking how they will feed themselves and their families and food banks are trying to keep up with the demand with limited supplies.

Before COVID-19 almost three million people in Florida lacked access to food, including one-in-five children, according to Feeding Northeast Florida. Now, with so many people not working, more and more people are having to make the choice between something else they need and food. 

"About two, three, to four times more households than usual, a huge increase and it's growing," said Sarah Dobson, director of development for Feeding Northeast Florida.

"I have agencies that normally get food for 150 a week and now they're asking for food for 800," said Matthew Galen, the Farm Share of Northeast Florida facility manager.

At food pantries like Feeding Northeast Florida and Farm Share, a job that used to be personal, giving someone food to fill that basic need now involves "thank you's" mouthed through car windows.

"No contact," Galen said about their drive-thru distributions. "They pop their trunks. We throw their food in the back."

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Farm Share is doing distributions this way and Feeding Northeast Florida is encouraging all of their partners who distribute food to do this as well to fill the need, citing it as the safest way to distribute food.

"More and more people are having to make those impossible choices," Dobson said. "That's what we're here to help."

That's gotten harder to do. Most of the food Feeding Northeast Florida gets is from retailers like grocery stores. Now their truckloads are more than cut in half with some grocery shelves bare. They have to buy food, which wasn't in the budget.

"We really need the community support to alleviate that for our neighbors," says the organization.

Food banks are surviving more than ever on donations. Donations that become a lunch for those one-in-five hungry kids.

"Knowing that the kids in the backseat, they're getting excited 'cause they may see Gatorade, it hits home," Galen said. "You know that you're actually touching people and helping your community."

Federal regulators as well as meat, dairy, and produce groups say there is no shortage of food for the country.

Donate to Feeding Northeast Florida's virtual food drive here. Donate to Farm Share here.

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Galen says Farm Share has been easily distributing food in 10 of its 11 counties, but that events are still canceled in Duval County. He says they've gotten "push back" on the drive-thru distributions from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

First Coast News questioned the mayor's office about this and was told the mayor is supportive of Farm Share doing distributions safely.

City spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton sent this response: 

“Mayor Curry is encouraging everyone to follow CDC Guidelines for social distancing and personal care, and is supportive of Farm Share continuing to hold drive-through food distribution events provided they are planned in such a way to ensure the safety of all employees, volunteers, and those receiving food.”

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