COVID-19 raises pressure on food banks like Northwest Harvest

The economic impact of COVID-19 continues to ravage families. With many people now out of work, there's a big surge in people turning to food banks for help.

Northwest Harvest’s SoDo Community Market has been seeing 100 people waiting outside each morning before it opens up.

The food pantry said it’s implemented Transportation Security Administration (TSA)-style lines so people can maintain social distancing while waiting. Northwest Harvest’s CEO said as the economic impact of COVID-19 gets worse, he’s expecting many more people will need to come here for food.

“The demand is incredible,” said Thomas Reynolds, CEO of Northwest Harvest.

Its SoDo Community Market usually looks like a grocery store. People can come in and shop, and when they check out, the food is free.

“We see about 800 people a day that shop the market,” Reynolds said.

Now, to maintain social distancing for customers and employees, staff and volunteers prepackage food for families for pickup curbside. One example of a ready-to-go bag had some oats, black beans, rice and peanut butter, among other pantry staples.

Food bank employees said in the past couple of weeks, they’ve started seeing a lot of new faces at their food banks across Washington state.

“Hundreds of thousands of people, especially in the service industry, have lost their jobs,” Reynolds said.

He said during the pandemic, the number of people who experience food insecurity in the state could double.

And there’s another challenge on top of the additional need - people have been buying grocery stores clean, so fewer food donations from shops are coming into Northwest Harvest.

It means the pantry needs to buy the food.

But Northwest Harvest employees said food prices are going up, too, meaning a dollar now buys less, and they’re worried the situation could get worse.

“We have some concerns of where global food supply will go in this time of global pandemic,” Reynolds said.

The food bank, which over decades has fed millions of people, is now asking for your help.

“What we need right now is funds. Right now, we’re raising $5 million just for the food needs over the next couple of weeks,” Reynolds said.

You can help people access food during the COVID-19 pandemic by donating at NorthwestHarvest.Org/Donate.

Another way to help is by volunteering. Northwest Harvest said many of its volunteers are older and in the high-risk category, so are now staying home. The food bank is calling on young people to sign up and help if they are able.