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Public Health

Food Insecurity Increasing In Northern Nevada

People are loading food into a car at a food distribution site.
Aramelle Wheeler
Food Bank of Northern Nevada
In order to minimize contact and abide by social distancing protocols, Food Bank of Northern Nevada staff are asked to load food directly into cars at the drive through mobile harvest at the community food pantry in Sparks, Nev.

Rising food insecurity has been one outcome of the job losses associated with COVID-19 non-essential business closures. The Food Bank of Northern Nevada is seeing a significant increase in the number of people who need help. KUNR’s Stephanie Serrano sat down with Spokesperson Jocelyn Lantrip to understand some of the challenges the Food Bank is facing.

Serrano: How has this pandemic impacted food distributions in our region?

Lantrip: We are so busy already. We've seen a dramatic increase in the very first minutes of this pandemic. As far as our need for emergency food and the distributions ... we've seen 30% increases at most of them, some of them have gone up even 50%. We feel good about it right now. We have enough food, we're ready for it, and we're distributing food in the same manner that we had before, except we have had to change how we do it.

Serrano: Can you tell me a little bit about those changes?

Lantrip: We've done this model before, at some of our senior distributions, but we've gone to a drive-through distribution whenever possible and that's really to keep that social distance. When people are staying in their cars and we're putting the food right in the window, or just putting it in the door, or their trunk, then we know that they're not standing in a line right next to somebody else for maybe an hour. We've gone to that model for a lot of our distributions and they're running a little bit more smoothly than they were even a couple of days before. It's hard to change midstream when people are used to doing something a certain way.

Serrano: What about community members who don't have a car?

Lantrip: We do know that that is a definite situation for a lot of the people we serve. We are still serving those folks at the same sites as our drive-through. We're just having a separate walk-up line and we're just establishing that social distance between the people.

Serrano: Is there a difference between the kinds of food included in an emergency package in comparison to what someone would receive during a regular time?

Lantrip: We're giving out a little bit more shelf-stable food than we generally do. We really prefer to give out a lot of fresh produce at our mobile harvest. There has been a little bit less produce available to us, we are hoping in the short term, so that's part of it. But the other part is we're trying to get food that's going to last a little while for people, so that's a little bit different. The other difference is that we really love to have clients be able to go through a line and set-up a mobile harvest, more like a farmers market, where you can pick the food that you like. We know that there's less waste that way. People are taking the food that they need, that they really like to eat and we really don't have that luxury right now.

Serrano: What kind of concerns are brewing?

Lantrip: I would say as far as the Food Bank is concerned, our largest concern is that the amount of food we're giving out and the number of people needing food ... [is] not sustainable. In the regular time, we're serving about 91,000 people every single month. So a really sharp increase, we can handle that for a while, but we're a little concerned about being able to keep up with that level of volume.

Serrano: What kind of concerns are we hearing from rural communities?

Lantrip: In the rural communities, we are seeing some issues [with] the supply chain for food. It seems to be disrupted some. So if you have a limited number of grocery stores and people are buying up certain products to store in their homes, we are finding some of the people we generally serve are not able to get food.

Serrano: Has the demographics of the people you're serving changed since this pandemic started?

Lantrip: It has changed. We're seeing people who are very newly without work and that is very different from what we've been seeing for the past, I would say, couple of years. Even though our numbers of people needing food have remained pretty high, they've been people who are working and just not able to keep up with expenses and that's changed drastically in the last couple of weeks.

Serrano: How many months do you think you guys could continue to provide these resources if the demand keeps growing?

Lantrip: Well, failure's not an option, so we really will be looking at creative ways to keep it going.

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