Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB) has been providing the equivalent of over 80,000 meals to people in need per day, a 50% increase up from last year, and with the drastic change in demand, the organization says they are in dire need of more funds, food and volunteers.
"Since the start of this crisis, participation at our distribution sites has increased by up to 200%. Over the coming weeks and months, the number of people we serve in an average year will double, from 82,000 to 164,000," said Redwood Empire Food Bank CEO, David Goodman.
According to a May 11 press release, the food being provided by the food bank now more than ever, is a lifeline. In recent weeks, several of the food bank’s partners have been forced to close or limit service, further increasing demand at the REFB.
“Each day, we are providing the equivalent of more than 80,000 meals to our neighbors in need — nearly 50% more than at this same time last year," said REFB’s marketing and PR manager, Rachelle Mesheau.
For instance, food distribution in Cloverdale has increased 158% from pre-COVID-19 numbers.
Food distribution in Healdsburg also skyrocketed and saw a 198% increase from pre-COVID-19 distribution numbers.
Windsor saw a 188% increase in food distribution from pre-COVID-19 numbers.
In west county — Sebastopol, Monte Rio, Guerneville and Forestville, there was a 38% increase.
In order to respond to the food security crisis at hand, the REFB has launched its emergency response program, “Station 3990,” which allows for more flexibility for establishing temporary food distributions wherever and whenever needed.
The food bank is also working with many partners across the county to meet rising food needs.
In Sebastopol, Catholic Charities, Ceres Community Project, Greenacre Homes & School, Redwood Christian Fellowship, Rotary Club of Sebastopol-Sunrise, Sebastopol Inter-Church Food Pantry, Seventh Day Adventist Church, SVDP St. Sebastian’s Parish and TLC Child & Family Services, have all been partnering with the REFB to help out during this time.
In Healdsburg, Alliance Medical Center, Burbank Housing, CA Human Development, Healdsburg Shared Ministries’, North Bay Children’s Center and Trinity Baptist Church have been helping the REFB.
And up in Cloverdale, the Cloverdale Food Pantry, Community Childcare Council, Kings Valley, and St. Peter’s Cloverdale have also been lending a hand.
Mesheau said local luminaries have also been helping out. Miss Sonoma County and former Santa Rosa mayor and soon-to-be third district supervisor Chris Coursey have come by to lend a hand, Senator Mike McGuire provided a free breakfast for REFB staff and volunteers and Congressman Mike Thompson has been spreading the word about REFB’s work. New Farm to Pantry director, Duskie Estes, has been gleaning produce for the food bank and volunteers, Team Rubicon, and the National Guard have been packing food boxes at the Redwood Empire Food Bank's Sonoma County Day School outpost.
Together, they are kitting approximately 5,000 food boxes a day, according to Mesheau. The boxes are used in the drive-thru food distribution program.
Even with all of this extra aid, the organization is still in need of donors, food and volunteers. Throughout the year, the REFB relies on 8,500 volunteers and with the shelter in place, many are staying home.
In order to make it safe for volunteers, the food bank has implemented a series of changes in the volunteer work process. Volunteer shifts have been moved to the Sonoma County Day School to allow for social distancing and volunteers are required to wear facial coverings and gloves, which are being provided to volunteers at all distribution sites.
Normally, the food bank has 50 to 250 volunteers per day, however, they have capped it to 50 volunteers per day to help manage social distancing guidelines.
Distribution hours have been extended to avoid clustering, products are spaced out to allow for distancing, drive-through distributions are being used when possible, hand sanitizer is available at all sites, and volunteers are encouraged to wash hands, avoid touching their face and to say home if they do not feel well. Volunteers over the age of 65 are also being encouraged to stay home.
In addition to donating your time, you can also donate food. The most needed items include tuna, canned meat, peanut butter, canned soups, stews and chili, rice, dried beans, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables, high protein granola bars and trail mix.
You can also make a monetary donation through the food bank’s website at refb.org.
"The sheer number of people falling into our safety net requires that it be broadened, fortified and maintained," said Goodman. "With our community's generous support, we can ensure that nobody experiences hunger."