Home Donors, Volunteers Organizations Food demand — and donations — spike at food banks – Greeley Tribune

Food demand — and donations — spike at food banks – Greeley Tribune

18 min read

A volunteer wears gloves while handling a cart of food for a client at the Weld Food Bank located at 1108 H St. in Greeley Wednesday, March 18, 2020. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the food bank has shifted its operations to only allow volunteers and employees inside the building to minimize infection risk. Once clients are checked in, they wait at the usual entrance and a volunteer brings a pre-loaded cart of food out to them. A sign at the check-in desk implores clients to maintain a 6 foot spacing in both English and Spanish. The organization has seen a dramatically increased demand for their services recently in response to the outbreak, according to several employees, including many first-time clients. Chief Development Officer Stephanie Gausch said the biggest needs of the organization now are money to buy food and volunteers to distribute it. (Alex McIntyre/amcintyre@greeleytribune.com)

Editor’s note: In the interest of public safety, this story is provided free to all readers. Support more reporting like this with a Greeley Tribune subscription.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has spiked demand at the food banks in Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley, financial donations and volunteers have also increased to help meet the new challenges.


In the first 17 days of March, Weld Food Bank saw a 37% increase in demand. That’s not including the food distributed to its 84 agency partners around Weld County. Weld Food Bank is a Feeding America member like Community Food Share.

“That 37% is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Bob O’Connor, CEO of Weld Food Bank.

One service that it provides is a mobile food pantry where a converted refrigerated beverage truck makes stops throughout the county and goes out a minimum of 18 times a month. O’Connor said that last week alone, 1,900 people took home emergency food boxes, a 92% increase.

“On this Saturday in the morning when we opened the doors at eight o’clock there were cars lined up all over the place waiting for help. So it’s not going to slow down, that’s for sure,” O’Connor said.

Like FISH, Weld Food Bank moved to a curbside pickup model with pre-packaged boxes. Since boxes are now packed for recipients, the food bank needs more hands on deck.

O’Connor said that while corporate sponsors still are contributing through financial donations, a number of them dropped off with volunteering. In March, 855 individuals logged a collective 3,042 hours in volunteer hours. However, Weld Food Bank still needs more manpower to stock the emergency food boxes, operate the mobile food pantry or assist with another program.

O’Connor said that volunteers are practicing safety precautions suggested by state and national health organizations such as keeping a 6-foot distance from others, sanitizing thoroughly and using gloves.

Weld Food Bank cancelled its annual fundraiser, Stone Soup, which typically raises $180,000. It had been scheduled for April 4.


Food Bank for Larimer County, another Colorado member of Feeding America, distributes food mainly through its Loveland and Fort Collins food banks. It adopted new hours on March 30 as a precautionary measure. The Loveland location at 2600 N. Lincoln Ave. is open Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fort Collins at 1301 Blue Spruce Drive is open on Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The former “client’s choice,” model is now a drive-up format. Those on foot can walk up during the same hours. The agency also provides free grab-and-go lunches for elementary students in the Poudre Valley and Thompson School Districts available Monday through Friday.

Since hours have been reduced, the organization offers slightly larger quantities of food, said Paul Donnelly, communications director for the Food Bank for Larimer County. Instead of a typical 40 to 45 pounds for a household, it plans to provide 50 to 55 pounds.

Donnelly said that at a recent mobile pantry, there was an 80 to 100% uptick in demand. He added that this could also be due to the food banks closing for two days last week while preparing inventory.

Donations from grocery partners in early March ranged from a 25 to 50% decrease.

“That’s a big hit to us, and it’s a big hit to our clients because that means that the amount of food and the choice of food that they get drops significantly,” Donnelly said. He added that donations are reaching normal numbers again.

He said that despite the reduction in hours of operation, the number of households has not decreased. Donnelly said that at both the Loveland and Fort Collins locations, cars snake around the buildings on operating days.

Not including other programs and mobile pantries, Food Bank for Larimer County serves 450 to 500 families a day.

Donnelly said that in March, a wave of local people contacted the organization to volunteer.

“We had somewhere around 700 or 800 applications to become a volunteer with the food bank so we’ve seen significant response from the community, and it’s been fantastic,” Donnelly said. “The breakdown of volunteers to staff members is always heavily tilted toward volunteers, because without our volunteers, we literally couldn’t do what we’re doing.

Food Bank for Larimer County’s COVID-19 Facebook fundraiser surpassed its goal of $20,000, raising $22,492. Donnelly added that the organization has information about its hours and services during the coronavirus epidemic on a designated page on its website.


Community Food Share, one of five Feeding America partners in the state, serves Boulder and Broomfield counties. It supplies food to local households through its onsite and mobile pantries to 40 non-profits.

According to Julia McGee, director of communications for Community Food Share, 

visitors to the organization’s services spiked 37% this month compared to this time last year. In 2019, Community Food Share fed 1,560 households between March 3 and 23. This year, more than 2,100 sought the food pantry between March 1 and 21. This does not include the activity of the 40 partners that offer food allocated through Community Food Share.

“The community has been incredibly generous and really acted quickly to start showing its support of our services,” McGee said. So far, the “COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund” on Community Food Share’s Facebook site raised $42,500.

“But we know that we need additional support in order to provide the nourishment that our neighbors need now and in the wake of this pandemic, especially because we expect the community’s recovery period to last much longer than the virus itself,” she said.

McGee said that while the Facebook campaign saw immediate activity from individual donations, the pipeline is slowing. The need to feed Boulder Valley and Broomfield households, however, continues to grow.

About 90% of Community Food Share’s pantry is donated, and grocery stores account for a large portion of that stock. According to McGee, donations from grocery stores, which are experiencing inventory shortages due to hoarding and customers stocking their shelves, are down 23% in March compared to the month prior. 

McGee said items like dry goods, meat and dairy products are harder to come by, reflecting supply issues for grocery store consumers.

To serve the increased demand, Community Food Share pivoted toward ordering food. Typically, it purchases only 5% of its stock. In March, 145% more food was purchased compared to before COVID-19 shook Colorado communities.

Community Food Share bought 68,000 pounds of food in February compared to the 166,000 pounds this month.

“Though we are purchasing additional food, we’re experiencing alarming delays in delivery, and we’re being told by our vendors that the wait time is anywhere from four to eight weeks.” McGee said.

That’s compared to a usual two week period. With the Feed America network and collaboration with other Colorado food banks, McGee said that there will always be food available for those in need.

McGee said that earlier in the month, Community Food Share upped the food it supplies to its partner agencies by 20%. One partner that it contributes to is Broomfield FISH (Fellowship In Serving Humanity). FISH fills one-third of its pantry with food from Community Food Share. The rest is from grocery stores, restaurants and individual donors. While public health is threatened by the pandemic, FISH is not accepting individual food donations but allows financial contributions.

Its 6 Garden Center location is closed to the public and people cannot browse the selection as they normally would. Instead FISH is asking people to use a curbside method for accessing food. Volunteers and workers will load pre-packaged boxes into the back of cars. The amount of food varies with household size.

Dayna Scott, executive director of FISH, said 80,000 pounds of food went to local households in the past two weeks. Most families receive 80 pounds to 160 pounds of food in a week. 

Since FISH also has fewer donations from grocery stores, it purchases $20,000 worth of food this month and believes that it will spend $20,000 to $30,000 in April. In a typical month, it spends only $5,000 to 8,000 on food purchases.

However, donations are mitigating those expenses. Scott said that without fundraising events, most months yield an average of $10,000 donations. This month, it received upward of $35,000.

Scott said that local partner agencies are collaborating by ordering in bulk together. A partner of both FISH and Community Food Share is the Emergency Family Assistance Association in Boulder, which has the largest food pantry in the city of Boulder. 

This month, 40% more people used the pantry services. Julie Van Domelen, executive director of EFAA, said that along with some food items, paper products such as toilet paper and diapers are harder to acquire.

Grab-and-go food bags are available every week day on the northwest side of the main office at 1575 Yarmouth Ave. Since it’s a walk-up model, EFAA is asking visitors to keep a minimum of 6 feet from one another. It is still accepting individual food donations at a table in front of the main office during business hours. Van Domelen said that non-perishable foods are preferred at this time and homemade goods cannot be accepted.

© 2020 BizWest Media LLC

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