While food banks around the nation face a run on their services and supplies amid the coronavirus crisis, the Banks-Jackson Emergency Food Bank remains well-stocked and surprisingly low-trafficked.
“We have been serving pretty much average or below average, the numbers, that we normally have,” director Patti Bearden said. “I keep thinking there’s going to be a panic at some point, but it hasn’t happened for us yet.”
The Banks Jackson Emergency Food Bank (BJEFB), located in Commerce, usually serves around 350 families a month or about 85-90 a week between the two counties. The food bank only served 60 families last week, according to Bearden.
While Bearden said she’s seen some new faces seek food assistance, others are staying home and the numbers are staying down to this point.
Speaking on a Friday morning, Bearden said the facility had been open since 9:30 a.m. and was still awaiting its first client.
“I’m sitting here looking at nobody coming in this morning,” she said, though someone did eventually arrive during the conversation.
Bearden said she’s happy there’s not been a panic to deplete the shelves of the food bank and certainly doesn’t want the organization to be overwhelmed by a wave of demand.
But she would like to extend help to more than are currently asking.
“I can’t feed everybody,” Bearden said. “But I definitely know the people who have lost jobs and don’t have an income and people who are living on a very limited income that they live on anyway should come and get food. I don’t want the world to come, but I want to keep serving.”
Low-income families seeking assistance from the BJEFB in the past had to obtain a department of family and children services (DFCS) referral before begin given food. But the BJEFB waived that requirement about two years ago, and paperwork is handled on-site at the food bank.
Bearden wonders if those in need of food are afraid of getting out of their homes and risking exposure to COVID-19.
But, to that end, the BJEFB has set up a distribution method for those picking up food to do so without coming into contact with volunteers. Food packages are placed in front of the facility in carts.
“They just have to get out just to grab their stuff, but they won’t be near anybody,” Bearden said.
Food bank volunteers fill out all needed paper work. With the FDA’s approval, food bank volunteers are signing “COVID-19” in the place of the client’s signature to limit contact.
Bearden said the food bank has seen some volunteer hesitation with the coronavirus outbreak, but it’s not been enough to slow the facility. The BJEFB has been closed just one day for a lack of volunteers after the crisis began.
The facility is usually staffed with three volunteers a day. Volunteers wear gloves when handling food items such as produce. No volunteer has shown any signs of sickness, Bearden said.
As for the food supply, that remains strong.
The food bank is still buying and receiving food through the Northeast Georgia Food Bank. It took in a truckload of food right before the coronavirus crisis began in earnest. That truckload should last the food bank a month and “we should be able to get another truck (load),” according to Bearden.
What’s more, the food bank and recently landed a $5,000 grant to help keep its pantry well-stocked.
Bearden is confident in the food supply.
“I feel good about it,” she said. “I don’t feel like there’s anything that I’m going to be short on. Within a month from now, it may be a whole different story, but right now we are good.”
Bearden also said she’s still seeing donations, reporting several walk-up donors during this crisis.
“I’ve had six different people come up and hand me a check that I’ve never gotten money from before,” Bearden said.
But the food bank is actually limiting drop off food donations as much as possible during this time.
“We always take drop off food donations, and we have some churches that still bring them, and I’ll take those,” Bearden said. “But I really just don’t want everybody bringing food right now. I’d like to be able to kind of feel it’s come from a secure place.”
Bearden said she wants to public to know the Banks Jackson Emergency Food Bank is there to serve low-income families in need.
“Anybody that comes and asks for food, we can provide some food for them,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter their income — basically if they’ve lost their job this week, they have no income now. They don’t have to tell me last month’s salary. It’s how it’s going now.”
Those wishing to donate money to the Banks-Jackson Emergency Food Bank can do so by sending checks to P.O. Box 25, Commerce 30529.