Atlanta Community Food Bank seeking to meet increased needs due to COVID-19
By Maria Saporta
“We are working overtime to respond to the needs in the community,” said Kyle Waide, ACFB president and CEO, said in a phone interview. “We’ve had to step up and quickly organize our response effort to provide as much food to people who need it as best we can.”
One big group it’s trying to serve is children and students who are unable to go to their schools, where they would receive free breakfast and lunch.
ACFB is delivering food to students in five metro school districts – Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County Public Schools, DeKalb County Public Schools, Clayton County Public Schools and the City of Marietta Public Schools.
“We have made a commitment to deliver food on a weekly basis to more than 20 school sites,” Waide said. “It will be about 10,000 pounds of food per school – a total of a quarter million pounds of food each week.”
In addition, Waide said thousands of restaurant and hospitality workers are now facing reduced hours or unemployment because of the disruption the Coronavirus has had on people’s regular daily activities.
“The needs will go up significantly in the coming weeks,” Waide said. “We are planning for a long and sustained increase of what we have to provide to the community.”
The Coronavirus hit at an unfortunate time for ACFB. Two weeks ago, the food bank moved to its new facility inside I-285 off Camp Creek Parkway in East Point.
In preparation for the move, ACFB depleted much of its inventory. So now it’s having to buy a lot of food, rather than relying on donations, to fill up its supply chain.
“Last week alone, we positioned 2 million pounds of food – 50 truck loads and got them on the road. We normally do half of that,” Waide said, giving credit to his team. “A big chunk of that was purchased, and that’s had a major financial impact on the food bank.”
And on Friday, ACFB made the difficult decision to quit using outside volunteers until “we get through this public health emergency.” The nonprofit annually is supported by 30,000 volunteers, who help sort and stock food for delivery.
Waide said ACFB made that drastic move in an effort to protect its employees. It has instituted other precautions, such as more frequent cleaning of its equipment and trucks. And its partners have changed the way they deliver food to families – by practicing social distancing – often placing food in the trunks of people’s cars.
Waide said ACFB is appealing to individuals and its regular donors to help it meet the increased needs.
“We are in a solid financial position,” Waide said. “We worked hard to build our reserves so we could handle situations like this. But given the scope of what we have to do here, we can’t rely on our reserves alone. We are going to need the community to help us.”
ACFB has made it easy for people to donate as well as to find where they can get food by have a special notice on its website.
The food bank also has launched a new “Text for Help” platform to help people locate the nearest food pantries. People can simply text “findfood” in English or “comida” in Spanish to 888-976-2232. The system will ask for a zip code or address, and then it provide addresses and contact info of the three closest pantries.
The Atlanta Community Food Bank is one of the largest hunger relief organizations in the country. It supports a network of close to 700 partners across 29 counties in metro Atlanta and North Georgia. Through those partners, it provides 63 million meals to 750,000 people each year, and it expects that to increase this year because of the Coronavirus.
“The most important help we need right now is financial support to not only keep the operation going, but to expand it,” Waide said. “We are really grateful that the vast majority of our partners are still operating. They have demonstrated incredible resilience.”
Still, it’s disconcerting because no one knows how long the crisis will last.
But Waide was upbeat, saying its new facility will support ACFB’s ability to scale up its operations over the next several months.
“It’s game time,” Waide said. “This is what we’re here for. The food bank is here for moments like this.”