AKRON, Ohio — The Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank has seen a drastic increase in need since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and some staff members think it will only get worse now that special pandemic unemployment benefits have expired.
The food bank is hosting a drive-thru distribution Thursday afternoon from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Pre-registration is not required and will be done while people wait in their cars. However, those who pick up food must be at 200% of the federal poverty line or below.
Families will be able to take home a number of items, including a box of fresh produce, two half-gallons of milk, a bag of fresh bakery items, one box of assorted protein, and one box of pantry staples.
“We've been setting up food distributions and parking lots, all over the region, serving long, long lines of cars and we move them through quick,” said Dan Flowers, CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank.
Flowers said, typically, every 1 in 10 people who go to a food pantry are going there for the very first time. Since the pandemic started, that’s become every one in four people and he said his staff has felt the pressure this year from the huge need.
He said before the pandemic, roughly 190,000 people in the food bank’s eight-county coverage area were food insecure. In the months since, that number has grown to 270,000.
“But I'll say honestly, I think it's been our finest hour, the efforts of these people from the National Guard, our wonderful staff, and of course the terrific community that's been so generous in supporting us financially, they've made a drastic impact on our ability to respond,” Flowers said.
He said they’ve also been able to keep up with the demand through federal assistance. But he’s worried the loss of special pandemic unemployment benefits under the CARES Act will make the numbers of food-insecure people spike even more.
“A lot of people are suffering right now. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before in my career. I have every expectation that unless Congress acts and does something to provide more unemployment benefits and extended unemployment benefits for people that have been impacted by this pandemic their suffering will continue and the lines at the food banks will get longer.”
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