In a time when very little is predictable or consistent, the department’s 18 Food Distribution truck drivers have kept food moving to places that need it most.
Those drivers are moving USDA commodities available through The Emergency Food Assistance Program to schools, food banks, soup kitchens and other distribution sites
And, that has been a welcomed relief for staff with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which serves 34 North Carolina counties.
“The TEFAP program is one of the few streams of food that has been very consistent during this pandemic,” said Charlie Hale, vice president of operations and programs for the Raleigh-based Food Bank. “Typically, donated food is consistent, but with our retail patrons working hard to keep their shelves stocked to keep up with increased consumer demand, it greatly limits what they can donate. There is nothing leftover in many cases.”
That consistency has helped ensure the Food Bank can continue its work in the midst of rising demand and community need, Hale said. With a sudden and sharp increase in unemployment, the demand is even greater.
The Food Bank has received and distributed 2.1 million pounds of TEFAP commodities, a significant part of the 7.4 million pounds total distributed in March.
Among the products delivered is pork, catfish, frozen corn, beef crumbles, spaghetti sauce, frozen broccoli, frozen cherries, over-roasted chicken, sweet potato fries and canned apple slices, peas, re-fried beans, pears and mixed fruit, said Gary Gay, director of the Food Distribution Division.
Gay’s division is often called on during natural disasters to help get food to places that may also need refrigeration to store products until they can be prepared and distributed.
Following Hurricane Florence, Food Distribution drivers were able to get food into the Wilmington area when others were not able to in support of the work of Baptists on Mission and its mobile kitchen
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the Baptists on Mission has also been a beneficiary of the Food Distribution’s shipments, recently receiving three shipments to central warehouses they operate around the state.
From those warehouses, around 430 churches across the state will turn the supplies into meals for people in need in their communities, said Richard Brunson, with Baptists on Mission.
That type of response is a bit different than the normal strategy of sending out a mobile kitchen, Brunson said, but it works so the group can better adhere to social distancing rules and keep its volunteers safe since many fall into a high-risk category.
Some of the group’s regular volunteers are networking with churches, helping to identify people who are isolated, and working with callers to the state 211 call line who are seeking assistance. Brunson said food is the No. 1 thing people are calling in about on that phone line.
Other volunteers are calling people and talking to them, especially those who may be isolated. Brunson worries that isolation and depression will become big issues as this pandemic continues.
“Our volunteers have found you can still help in some way, even just calling and talking with others,” he said.
Hale agreed that COVID-19 is challenging organizations to become more creative
“There are a lot of obstacles that are keeping us from responding like we normally do. Typically, we get help from other agencies,” Hale said. “But everyone’s got their own disaster, so no one’s coming to help us. In a normal disaster, you have a lot of volunteers. With social distancing, not so much. It’s a very unique situation.”
NCDA&CS truck drivers keep social distancing in mind with their deliveries. When they arrive, they pull up, get out of their truck and open and unlock the roll-up doors on the truck before backing up to the loading dock.
The dock attendant removes the products from the trailer and confirms all items have been delivered.
The driver signs off on the order, pulls away from the dock, lowers and locks the doors and heads off for his next delivery.