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1,700 families receive food at drive-thru mobile pantry

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Hundreds of vehicles lined up in the parking lot of Glasgow High School on Friday morning, as 150 Food Bank of Delaware employees, National Guard members and volunteers braved a steady rain to load boxes of donated food into the trunk of each vehicle while Delaware Department of Transportation workers helped manage traffic.

By the time the event was over, the food bank served more than 1,700 households.

“We’ve created a well-oiled machine,” food bank spokeswoman Kim Turner said.

The food bank has had plenty of practice as it works overtime to meet unprecedented demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has put thousands of Delawareans out of work.

The Delaware Department of Labor said Thursday that almost 96,000 jobless claims have been filed since March 15, and more than $234.7 million in unemployment benefits have been paid. That total includes $142 million in federal funds and almost $92 million from Delaware’s unemployment insurance trust fund.

The number of jobless claims approached 19,000 for the last week of March and the first week of April. The previous monthly record for unemployment claim filings in Delaware over the past three decades was a little more than 9,600 in January 2002.

Friday’s event was the ninth large distribution event the food bank has held in Delaware since the pandemic began in March. In total, the events have served more than 15,000 households, Turner said.

Each family that came through the line Friday received nearly 80 pounds of food, including fresh produce, egg whites, a gallon of milk, chicken and a variety of canned goods.

The food bank has also partnered with community organizations for a number of smaller food distribution events, including one in Newark’s Dickey Park earlier this month.

In April alone, the food bank gave out 1.5 million pounds of food, twice the amount it distributed in April 2019. The organization has also seen nearly double the amount of people coming to the food pantry at its warehouses in Newark and Milford, where people can come and pick out food items they need.

“Demand has been significant,” Turner said, adding that it has slowed down a bit over the last few weeks as the state caught up on unemployment filings and federal stimulus checks were sent out.

The only comparison in recent history is the Great Recession in 2008, but demand is higher now, she said.

Much of the food distributed has come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s trade mitigation program, which was implemented in 2018 after the U.S. imposed tariffs on Chinese goods, and China retaliated with tariffs on American agriculture products. The government buys the products from farmers and distributes it to food banks.

The food bank is also distributing fresh produce from the USDA, which distributes surplus food bought from farmers affected by the pandemic.

Turner said the food bank is grateful that it was able to open its new warehouse in Pencader Corporate Center last year. The new facility is twice the size of the previous building, and provides more storage space and modern loading docks that allow the organization to accept donations it previously would have had to decline.

“I don’t want to imagine where we would be if we were still in the old facility,” Turner said. “We’d be struggling.”

The food bank continues to need volunteers to pack food boxes, as many corporate groups have canceled their usual volunteer sessions. The organization now uses smaller groups of volunteers, spread out across the warehouse to abide by social distancing requirements.

The food bank is always in need of donations, which can be dropped off at its warehouse located at 222 Lake Drive. The most-needed items include canned fruits, canned vegetables, peanut butter, pasta and jarred sauce, canned meats (tuna fish or chicken), rice, hot and cold cereal, healthy snacks like granola bars and raisins and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juice.

However, monetary contributions make the biggest impact, Turner said.

“Our buying power is significantly greater than your or my buying power at a grocery store,” she said.

Every dollar donated provides up to three meals, she added.

For more information, or to donate, visit www.fbd.org or call 302-292-1305.

Those in need of assistance should dial 2-1-1 to be connected with the appropriate resources.

This article includes information from the Associated Press.

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