Area Food Pantries See Uptick In Need As COVID-19 Scare Continues

Mar 18, 2020

Shoppers navigate an empty grocery store Tuesday in Gulf Breeze.
Credit Georgia Barrett/Special To WUWF

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, local food banks are seeing a significant increase in need with schools closed and families losing income. 

DeDe Flounlacker, executive director of Manna Food Pantry in Pensacola, said the nonprofit recognized early on how the coronavirus would impact households. They started to prepare by getting the word out to people working in the service industry and identifying families in need through the Boys and Girls Club. 

“We have seen an uptick in clients, and at the same time in food donations,” she said. 

While food insecurity is an ongoing issue in Northwest Florida, Flounlacker said some of the new clients have never needed assistance before. After yesterday’s announcement that bars would be closing and restaurants limiting capacity, she said she expects to see more service industry workers in need. 

“The number of people with the opportunity to just go to the store and buy goods has shrunk significantly,” she said. 

Feeding children is another issue food banks are looking at. Local school districts are implementing free breakfast and lunch programs while schools are closed through April 15. And the state’s Summer BreakSpot food program launched early to provide meals. 

“Kids are our biggest focus, but we’re also preparing disaster boxes similar to ones that were distributed during Hurricane Michael and the government shutdown,” said Aubrey Grier, community engagement coordinator for Feeding the Gulf Coast. “This is something that’s going to affect everyone.”

Grier said a big need will be volunteers to help pack boxes. Anyone 16 years old to 50 can sign up by emailing agrier@feedingthegulfcoast.org. 

Destin Harvest is a nonprofit that supports food pantries and feeding programs in Okaloosa and Walton counties by collecting surplus food from grocery stores and restaurants. With panic buying clearing out local stores, they’ve had less food to collect.

“We’re usually picking up about 100,000 pounds of food each month,” said Executive Director Chris Leavenworth. “This month will be pretty bare. It’s dismal. Shelves are empty, but they are getting restocked. Right now, we’re just picking up what we can.”

If you have extra food from a recent grocery trip or in your pantry, Manna will have a box set outside for donations at their Pensacola office at 3030 N. E St. Another effective way to help is with monetary donations. And you can do that while social distancing. 

“Yesterday, I bought $10,000 worth of food in anticipation of the demand,” said Flounlacker. “Money also keeps out team going. Other businesses might be sending people home, but we don’t have that luxury. Our small staff of eight full-time employees has to show up to work every day.”