Local food banks return to normal after influx from COVID-19 pandemic

Cars line up outside the Akron-Canton food bank. Photo courtesy of the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an influx of customers to the Akron-Canton food bank and its partners, with the food banks distributing to over double the amount of their normal recipients. 

“We’re extremely busy, our distribution is up 21 percent,” Raven Gayheart, public relations and communication manager at the Akron-Canton food bank, said.

The Akron-Canton food bank serves eight counties in the surrounding area. The food bank has 80 full time staff members and had more than 10,000 volunteers who donated nearly 60,000 hours of service last year, Gayheart said. 

The volunteer center closed for a period of time during the pandemic. The Ohio National Guard has been helping out in the center since mid March and will be staying until mid August. The National Guard has helped partners load food, drive tow-motors and several other jobs.

“They’re in the volunteer center inspecting and packaging emergency boxes,” Gayheart said. “They have their large vehicles that they brought with them so they are actually taking food orders out into our eight counties to drop off to partner sites.”

The food bank has recently called back some of the regular volunteers and is practicing social distancing and requires masks and gloves, Gayheart said. 

Gayheart also said their food inventory severely dropped because of the increase in demand. 

The food bank normally serves 400 families a month. That number increased to 900 with the highest at one point being around 1,800 families who needed food over the past few months.

“We just couldn’t replenish our shelves as quickly as it was going out of the building,” Gayheart said. 

She said they have truckloads of food on order and are expecting them possibly in early July. The majority of their food is donated by manufacturers, retail partners and grocery stores, like Target. 

The food bank offers a grocery distribution to people in the community, which started in November 2018. The distribution is drive-thru style from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Gayheart said there were cars lined up as early as 11 a.m. waiting for it to start. The distribution is the second and fourth Thursday of every month.

The other partners of the food bank were asked to call when they arrived versus coming into the center as a new safety protocol. One of their partners includes Kent Social Services which has seen an influx of new clients as well. 

“When everything started shutting down, I would say that’s when we saw an influx in new clients — our numbers increased,” Marquice Seward, program manager at Kent Social Services, said. 

Seward said their numbers started dropping in the month of June closer to what they were familiar with before the pandemic, but they were serving almost three times the normal amount at one point. 

The local community has shown a lot of support with donations to the food bank, and Gayheart said they received several $1,200 donations of stimulus checks.

“Rather than keeping it for themselves, they were simply sending them directly to the food bank,” Gayheart said.

Those in need of food can visit the Akron-Canton food bank’s website to find available programs, check the dates for the drive-thru distribution and donate to the food bank.

Contact Nicole Harness at [email protected].