COVID-19 Tests Commitment, Patience, and Creativity

by Tim Kean

The news report yesterday showed video of milk being poured down the drain at dairy farm locations and green beans being plowed under in the field. Hundreds of cars waiting in lines for hours and isolated individuals unable to leave home are reaching out for a lifeline. Product gluts and shortages seem to be the current trend on a national scale. We’re seeing the food production and supply chain resembling a bucking bronco as we try to stay on top of it for more than the required 7 seconds in most rodeos, but this is not like most rodeos.

I am stymied for the right words to describe what food banks around the country are faced with to address the skyrocketing demand for food assistance and the tidal wave of food flowing in our direction. We have responded to the increased demand by ramping up our Tailgate Distribution schedules in all 8 counties we serve. Prior to COVID-19 we were scheduling 9 Tailgates a month and that number is now in 31 by the end of this week and 25 for the month of April. We were providing a semi-load of food at larger sites, that has now become 2 loads. Sites that had had 250 cars in line are now over 700 cars. To get this increase managed on site we have been able to develop some great partnerships with many county EMA staffs. Emergency Management is doing a fantastic job of helping to facilitate traffic and volunteers along with local law enforcement who have stepped up with traffic control and food distribution in several locations. We have fire fighters in several communities on scene also distributing food. The outpouring from the communities and organizations to help with food distribution and funds continues to be a true blessing that is much needed.

We also are blessed with 30 members of the National Guard that have been at our facility for the past couple of weeks! The National Guard is a tremendous support in food distribution at the Tailgate sites as we sometimes have multiple sites happening at the same time. They clearly represent one of the outstanding resources of support our country has to offer. They are here playing a major role in getting food bagged and boxed for many of the school distributions we still maintain through The Big Idea, our relationship based long-term initiative. At 35 schools in 8 counties we continue to offer support for families – now in a drive through format and encourage them to stay in relationship with the school staff. The relationship currently has some limitations, but this is an opportunity for the families to stay engaged with school in this long-term commitment. The basic needs benefit will continue to happen well after the medical crisis winds down.

We have also moved into pre-bagging and boxing to distribute food for our Senior Safety Net sites, Forward STEPS and lower volume pantry partners. This also aids with the drive-thru format we are encouraging. We have found it necessary to streamline our warehouse operations for agency ordering and distribution by pre-selecting the items and orders that all will receive. We have moved toward smaller variety and larger quantity as the model. Every system has positive and negative pieces, but we needed simplicity and increased efficiency. I’m sure we will tweak all of our systems as we go forward. Some of our plans have underwent major overhauls several times over the last 3 weeks. This COVID-19 response will certainly test your commitment, patience, and creativity!

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