The nation’s food pantries have been hamstrung for resources since the pandemic began in March, and the need they are trying to fulfill won’t disappear on Thanksgiving, which is like any other day.
“Even under normal times, Thanksgiving for food banks isn’t what people generally think it is,” Brian Greene, president, and CEO of Houston Food Bank told Cashay. “It’s not that need really goes up for the holidays, but rather public perception does.”
For the estimated 50 million food-insecure people living in the United States, preparing a Thanksgiving meal with all its trappings is likely out of the question this year. A new survey from LendingTree projects that Americans will spend an average of $475 hosting Thanksgiving, up 53% from 2019.
That’s where food banks step in. In a normal year, they would run Thanksgiving events like food drives and large-scale community dinners. This year, food banks are relying heavily on donations and volunteers to feed their neighbors, on Thanksgiving and beyond.
But both of these are in short supply due to the pandemic, Greene said.
“Volunteer shortfalls are a huge problem for food banks right now,” Greene said, adding that social distancing measures and public health requirements like temperature checks, sanitizing, and mask-wearing have significantly eroded the food bank’s volunteer capacity by as much as 90%.
Prior to the pandemic, the facility was capable of coordinating 1,000 volunteers simultaneously but now can only accommodate a few shifts of 150 at one location and 100 people at a temporary facility.
“It is critical that we fill every shift as much as possible, but that isn’t happening,” Greene said, “and even if we did it wouldn’t be enough given current volumes.”
Even in pre-Covid times, Feeding America, the country’s largest network of hunger-relief organizations, estimates that 51% of all food programs run on the work of volunteers.
Those who have the financial capabilities to donate, that’s where another need is. Check a local food bank for its wish list of the items it most desires or are in short supply and plan to make a contactless drop-off prior to the holiday. It’s best to skip perishable foods, especially frozen turkeys, and donate shelf-stable items like canned vegetables, pasta, and instant mashed potatoes or stuffing.
Although the intent is there, food banks do not accept donations of leftovers or cooked food because of health and safety standards. A cash contribution to a local food bank is always an appreciated donation.
“Volunteers and money,” Greene said. “That’s what every food bank most needs now.”
Read more information and tips in our Spending section