Published Jan. 22, 2021
By MARIE MATHEWS
The Food Bank for Monterey County has increased its distribution and adapted to issues regarding limited donations to address a quadrupled demand for food due to the pandemic.
According to Cathleen Montero, the Chief Financial Officer of the Food Bank for Monterey County, one in three children and seniors are hungry, compared to one in four before the pandemic. Instead of serving 9,000 families a month, they now serve 60,000 families a month and 53% of the county.
Unemployment, as well as the closure of schools, churches, emergency food pantries, senior living facilities and community centers, has largely contributed to this surge.
“We were already serving such a significant swath of the county prior to the pandemic,” says Melissa Kendrick, the food bank’s CEO and executive director. “Agriculture and hospitality are the two largest industries in the county. Even in normal times, they are seasonal, which means the numbers during the winter months triple. Unfortunately, this year, those were two industries that were just decimated.”
The Food Bank has increased the rate of distribution to keep up with demand, developing over 50 new drive-up distribution sites that each serve 600 to 800 families.
“We had to convert all of our sites to drive-throughs, while also maintaining walk-ups, because a significant proportion of the population here do not own vehicles,” Kendrick says.
Additionally, volunteers are no longer working in the facilities due to safety reasons, with 500 volunteers replaced by the National Guard. The pandemic has also caused an increase in food price and decrease in supply for certain foods, making it more difficult to restock the warehouse and attributing to a decrease in donations.
“Our food donations are down by 58%, and produce donations from local produce companies are down 65% to 80%,” Kendrick says.
However, the executive director remains confident that the food bank will find new ways to tackle hunger across the county.
“As dire as the circumstances are, these are always opportunities, inflection points, to reimagine the way you do things, and do more, and I think that’s exactly what we’ve done,” notes Kendrick. “I think it’s just a reflection of the heroic efforts of my staff who have been at the Food Bank every day for 10 months. They will do absolutely anything they can to ensure nobody in this county goes hungry.”
For a county that frequently ranks as the hungriest in California, Kendrick believes that Monterey has the potential and resources to end hunger and become the healthiest county.
“If we can feed the nation or feed the world, how is it possible that we can’t feed those in our own backyard?” Kendrick says. “I don’t think it’s that we can’t. I think it’s just that we need to make it a priority. I think if we made hunger a priority, we could end hunger in our county in five years.”