Facing an unprecedented demand from families out of work, local food banks are finding themselves competing with busy grocery stores for the supplies they need, and organizers fear their food banks could run out of food completely within the next three weeks.
“We are down to our last pallet of peanut butter,” said Rebecca Larsen, director of Helping Hands Food Bank in Skagit County, which supplies food to neighboring food banks including Bellingham’s, and is on pace to serve a staggering 200 families.
“What’s scaring me is rice. We are running out, and no one will sell it to me,” she said.
Larsen said dangerously low supplies of food--not money--is the issue.
“I called two grocery stores,” she said. “The stores said ‘we can’t order you food because we need it.’ They’re making a lot of money right now, and they’re not going to sell us pallets of food.”'
Traditional sources for food banks are running short of food themselves.
“This is all the protein that we have,” Larsen said, while walking into a sparsely-filled cooler which is typically stacked floor-to-ceiling with boxes.
Washington State’s Department of Agriculture promised more than $6 million worth of food would be coming to banks, but the shipments might not come until July.
With so many out of work due to coronavirus shutdowns, Helping Hands sees about 50 new families every time they offer their bi-weekly distribution.
We’ve already seen an increase of 500 plus children each week that will be needing these bags," said Nichole Long with Helping Hands. “So all these bags will be gone by the end of this week. We’re just looking at these shelves thinking, what are we going to do in a few weeks?”
The Helping Hands staff made a Facebook video this week, urging people to contact state legislators to draw attention to the food shortage.
“I can’t imagine looking at a family with a young kid, saying, ‘I’m sorry, we’re out food. You’ll have to go home,’” Long said.