Howard Rickard here and I am President-Board of Directors of the Tri-Cities Food Bank. I was asked to answer questions on Food Bank operations during COVID19 response period.
All three branches of the Tri-Cities Food Bank have been and will continue to operate as long as possible over normal food distribution hours weekday mornings from 11:30AM to noon. Our branches are located on Wellsian Way in Richland, 420 W. Deschutes in Kennewick, and on 10th Street in Benton City. For more information please see our Facebook Website (www.facebook.com/tricitiesfoodbank). The Food Bank is just like the grocery stores that must remain open during this timeframe. Questions about the Food Bank operations have centered on the following:
1. What is the organization doing?
We are constantly monitoring and implementing procedures recommended by the CDC and local health authorities. Increased disinfection/cleaning of all surfaces is continual and cleaning supplies are replaced as soon as store stocks allow. No staff reporting any onset of cold or flu systems can come to work. Staff and volunteer hand washing is increased beyond that already mandated in keeping compliance with food handing certification. Hand sanitation stations are increased in number and location for customer use.
Customers entering the facility are staged to allow separation between patrons to maintain social distancing. Customers feeling ill remain outside and food box will be brought to them by staff.
2. How people can help?
Because Food Bank staff and volunteers are long retired, they are in the age group most vulnerable to the virus. The customer base has large elements also at risk due to underlying health conditions as well as old age. This creates a double exposure problem for the Food Bank as our aged volunteer base may soon be asked to stay home. The Food Bank can only operate if there are people to run it. Younger volunteers are needed and there are jobs suited to any skill set at the facilities. Please contact our central office at 509 582-0411 to volunteer.
Of immediate importance is to stop hoarding food and cleaning supplies. Shelves of grocery stores have been stripped of perishables that when approaching expiration dates go to Food Banks. The food supply in the USA is fine. It is the hoarding that is causing stretched trucking supply lines in efforts to restock shelves. All Food Banks have already seen marked reduction in store donated food and individual food donations as people stay home. There are going to be many people unemployed and could very likely be in the Food Bank line. The person serving you at the restaurant yesterday may be the person in need at our Food Bank next week.
Monetary contribution is essential to continued operation. With the decrease in donated food we will need to purchase food from 2nd Harvest and other Food Bank distributors.
3. What are the future challenges?
When people self quarantine either to reduce exposure or are in fact sick, food delivery will be key. You have seen the rapid response of local school districts in using bus routes and school pick-up points for kids relying on the school meal programs. This is an example of creative ways to get food to people. The Food Bank will likely be challenged to find ways to deliver food to home bound people. We have vehicles but we don’t have drivers in the age group that can risk exposure. Younger volunteers are crucial.
It is hoped that students and those of you sent home to work can step forward and help in this unprecedented situation.