President and CEO Kristine Marlowe, who took over the position in August 2020, sat down with Community Impact Newspaper to talk about how the food bank weathered storms of all kinds in the past year.
What kind of trends have you observed in terms of distributing food in the past year?
We track our distributions through our fiscal years, [which ended in June]. During that time, we served over 11 million meals to our community, and we served an average of 65,000 individuals a month. We hosted 283 mobile distributions, and of course in the middle of all that we had an ice storm. That was an unexpected disaster, and of course most everybody was impacted some way or another. The special need for that was not only food, but also water. Water became a huge crisis during that storm because of broken pipes, and you couldn’t even go to the store to buy some. So during that time because of our great relationship with the Office of [Homeland Security and] Emergency Management, we distributed over a million bottles of water.
What have you observed in terms of donations, both in money and food?
We are very grateful to all of our donors that supported us because $1 can buy five meals thanks to our purchasing power. We have really great purchasing power for that. ... During the pandemic, food banks got a lot of great media coverage. You may have seen those images on TV of people waiting in long lines. So food banks have always been here, but those images and the fact that we provide a basic need for people—our donors have been generous. And of course there were times during the pandemic when we were uncertain where our supplies were coming from. ... And the other thing about it is that the pandemic is going to be a long-term recovery. We think we’re out of it, and now we’re seeing increasing cases.
How has your workforce been affected, and how did that affect food bank operations?
Something that’s very extraordinary about the food bank is that when restrictions went into place, we couldn’t shut down. We are blessed with volunteers who help us maintain our operations; we try to maintain a safe operation for them. There was a time when we did not have volunteers because of the COVID[-19] concerns, and the National Guard stepped in [through summer 2021]. But as far as what’s happening in the community, we still have to be prepared to serve; we’re going to be here; we’re just taking precautions because we cannot shut down.
How have food supply chain disruptions affected the food bank?
We primarily source our food by donations, so when there are supply chain disruptions elsewhere, we experience them as well. There were times when we didn’t have canned vegetables or frozen chickens.
We make every effort through our nutrition program to educate people on what they can substitute to get the same nutrients.
Just because someone might be used to getting chicken or meat, but you can substitute beans or peanut butter, and that’s kind of the nature of food banking. We don’t have recipes, but we do a very good job of putting packages based on what we have on the shelf.