Grays Harbor’s food banks are gearing up to meet heavy demand brought on by coronavirus fallout.
“We expect a surge in new recipients as jobs are lost in our area,” said Tina Kebow, volunteer program coordinator of Coastal Harvest, a Hoquiam-based distribution center that supports food banks and feeding programs in seven Washington counties, including Grays Harbor and Pacific.
“We have every intention of continued deliveries and will change to accommodate the needs of the community,” she said. “We’ve got you covered.”
That may not be easy. Many of the nonprofit’s volunteers are seniors, who are at high risk from the virus; so Kebow has directed all volunteer workers to stay home for safety.
“We are currently not looking for any younger help, either, because we are doing our best to stay isolated so we can continue to serve our clients,” she said.
“We at Coastal Harvest love what we do, why we do it and who we do it for,” she added. “As a very small staff who serve thousands of people, we are on the front lines to prevent hunger — but we are only human.”
While helping hands might be scarce, Executive Director Brent Hunter foresees no shortage of food.
“We’ll get it. The supply line is pretty healthy,” he said, as prepackaged foods are flowing in from partner distribution networks as well as the state. “We feel comfortable and confident based on our information right now that we can meet the need.”
He also noted that many food banks and community meal providers shifted their operations weeks ago to keep their volunteers and clients safe.
“I’m proud of many of our feeding programs for getting out ahead of curve with social distancing,” said Hunter. “When we started getting information from the CDC and state and federal programs, the (local) programs jumped all over it. They’ve been really proactive about keeping their places clean and serving their clients as best as they can.”
He said many of the local feeding programs (such as senior center meals) are not allowing people inside, but instead are serving clients at the door. “They are pre-packing and bagging the food so people can walk up or drive up, grab their food and leave,” he said.
Feed the Hungry, an arm of Catholic Community Services, is among the programs continuing to operate with those adaptations.
The program continues to serve lunches from noon to 1 p.m. daily (except Saturdays) at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aberdeen; but now those meals are wrapped up to go. They’re packaging hot foods such as grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, fish sticks with fries, and soup with sandwich.
“We’re managing, all things considered,” said Cher Keller, who leads the program. “We’ve lost quite a few volunteers, but have enough to keep going.”
Keller said the program serves about 100 people per day, including seniors and members of the homeless and “home-limited” communities. “And now that schools are out, we get some of the children from the neighborhood.”
Volunteers and clients alike are observing safety precautions such as social distancing and disinfecting the food stations. “Everyone’s been very respectful and understanding,” Keller said.
Local food banks and feeding programs not sponsored by the state don’t have any specific requirements for those who need their services. Anyone feeling the pinch may partake.
“It’s not up to us to decide who does and who doesn’t get service. Sadly, there will be some who take advantage,” said Hunter. “This is an emergency affecting many people, so rules and boundaries are in some ways more open to provide food to those in need.”
Both Hunter and Kebow emphasized that food banks cannot accept direct food contributions from the community during this time because the coronavirus can survive for so long on various surfaces. For that same reason, they are not accepting returns of empty boxes or unwanted food items.
The best way for the community to help right now, they said, is to donate money through the nonprofit’s website: www.coastalharvest.us.
“Nobody should worry about being hungry during this crisis and beyond,” said Kebow.