ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – Food banks, pantries and prepared meal sites have had to change the way they provide food because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Food Bank of the Southern Tier* offers community drive-through pick-up services, but people must register in advance. The Food Bank serves six counties: Broome, Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins counties.
Natasha Thompson, CEO of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, said not everything they are encountering because of the current crisis is new.
“It’s leading a lot of new people to come to us for help and it’s also highlighting some of the disparities that are already there,” Thompson said. “One of the biggest issues in the Southern Tier is transportation and we’re seeing that now. You know, we don’t have a lot of food pantries that do home deliveries.”
Thompson said the Food Bank is helping to connect some people without transportation to services in their communities that can do home deliveries. She said that 90 percent of their partner pantries and meal programs have remained opened and adapted how the make food available to maintain social distancing.
The increase in need is significant. In March, the Food Bank distributed twice as much food as it did in March 2019. At recent distributions, Thompson said they have seen a large numbers of new users.
“In Owego, we saw of the people who registered for that distribution were new,” she said. At other recent distributions Thompson said they have seen new participants as high as 72 percent. At a recent on in Bath, new people were 46 percent of those registered to receive food.
At the same time need has increased Thompson said their donations have decreased.
“A majority of our food is donated,” Thompson explained. “We’re seeing donated food dry up, right? Because supermarkets have less to spare. You know, a lot of our manufacturing partners, they’re seeing increased demand and so they, that means they have less to donate.”
Thompson said for the first time the Food Bank is buying wholesale canned goods and other staple items.
*Full Disclosure: The Food Bank of the Southern Tier is has been a partner of WSKG Public Media.