State report reveals concern for Washington food bank supply in wake of COVID-19 crisis

OLYMPIA, Wash – Washington food banks could face serious shortages as demand increases due to the COVID-19 crisis. The need and the state’s response are detailed in situational reports compiled by the Washington Department of the Military and the State Emergency Operations Center.

The documents compile situational concerns across the state, including how many patients have confirmed cases, what supplies are available and how state agencies are responding to the crisis.

In a report dated March 27th, it says, “food banks reported that there is a critical shortage of food and appropriate boxes for packaging meals for deliveries to families and residents in need.” It also states that “additional coordination through the Governor’s Food Security Coordination team has resulted in a request for 300,000 boxes coordinated with Dept. of Corrections for use by the hunger relief network.”

Last week, members of the Washington National Guard deployed to several areas around the state to help with food collection and distribution. At the time, 4 News Now asked if the same services would be coming to Spokane. A spokesperson for the Department of the Military said no agencies in Spokane had requested that aid.

Some smaller counties are changing their approach to food distribution during this critical time. The report states that “Chelan County is moving away from using small distribution centers. Instead they are going to start using a single, mass-distribution site for emergency food. It’s a model we will likely see more of in the days and weeks to come.”

The report cites the closure of schools statewide as part of the reason for the increase in demand. Many school districts statewide have found ways to distribute food in neighborhoods and with school buses. But, the report states, “workforce is a growing issue because schools rely on older people to work in food service and as bus drivers. These are two job categories important to food assistance. The  older workers are opting not to work because of COVID concerns.”

The report points out that non-government agencies also have food to distribute, but “demand is growing dramatically so supply is quickly being used up.”

“Food banks expect a significant gap in the food supply across the whole system by mid-April (April 10-April 20). Northwest Harvest reported they are distributing 450,000 pounds of food this week. The burn rate and demand are rising sharply. These NGOs are seeing 30 percent to 100 percent increases in the number of people served,” according to the situational report.

The report addresses more than just the need, but also explains the state’s plan to combat this need, especially as more people in our communities find themselves unemployed.

“The team is working on data mapping to better understand the geographic areas most in need of food and other assistance through the crisis. They would like to create a layered heat map system to account for multiple issues. Federal Emergency Food Assistance Program money is coming for Food Assistance. $2.1 million should be here within a month. New funds of $6.4 million can be used beginning in July – October…. The Red Cross is providing volunteers to help out at food banks, boxing and distributing food.”

In a report the following week, dated April 1st, the team details plans to continue coordinating with community stakeholders to fill the needs across the state.

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