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Food banks, soup kitchens face challenges during pandemic

Posted at 8:59 AM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 11:59:24-04

(KERO) — The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the daily lives of most Americans from work to school and home.

As business closed, millions lost their jobs, and for many the question of how they would feed their family became a real fear.

Toni's kitchen of St. Luke's Church became a lifeline in their community for those who would navigate a soup kitchen for the first time.

"We've definitely had new guests," said Anne Mernin, executive director of Toni's Kitchen of St. Luke's Church. "I have walked out here and seen friends of mine in line. People who never expected to ever be out of country have had have been really hard hit."

The soup kitchen also fell on hard times during the pandemic.

"Well, when the pandemic hit, really all of our distribution mechanism shut down overnight," said Mernin.

Because of COVID restrictions, supply concerns and increased demand Toni's got creative and asked for help from of the community, who answered the call.

"We were outside. We would set up tables to receive in food donations to sort food. And people came and did pickups for us at markets, which was tremendous," said Mernin.

The donations so massive their dining room turned into a warehouse Toni's even started delivering meals to those who were homebound.

"People stepped in wherever they were gaps. The community responded with so much generosity," said Rev. John Mennell of St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

According to a new report from the USDA, food insecurity increased significantly during the pandemic widening by 10% among black and hispanic households.

Despite the supply chain shortages, Feeding America, one of the largest organizations that joins networks of food banks and partner agencies in the U.S., distributed more than six billion meals in 2020 an increase of 44% than in 2019.

"So one of the things that we really try to help everyone understand is how brave, courageous and resilient the local food banks and their local food pantries have been through this pandemic," said Katie Fitzgerald, COO of Feeding America.

But as the pandemic rages on, the fight against food insecurity continues and that's where Toni's kitchen comes in.

"So in this year and a half or so, many things have been shut down to us," said Rev. Mennell. "So many things have been closed off. This has been something that's been open and thriving and is alive and will continue to be for as long as it's needed."