The Tarrant Area Food Bank has been going non-stop since the start of the pandemic. Job losses have led to food insecurity for countless families.
And the work is far from over as we head into the holiday season and new year. Food bank leaders provided NBC 5 with an update on the road ahead.
“Businesses are not coming back. Many are closed down and have not returned. And folks are continuing to be unemployed," said Julie Butner, CEO of Tarrant Area Food Bank. "While they’re unemployed, we are there as the safety net to help them during this crisis."
For the last several months since the pandemic escalated, TAFB has been going all out on mega mobile food markets. It’s a mass food distribution event where families can drive up -- no questions asked -- and volunteers load 100 pounds of high-quality produce, meat, dairy and groceries into their trunk.
“We just don’t see this ending anytime soon. Until the economy can come back and people can get the jobs back, they’re going to need us to help them out,” said Butner.
Crews have been working Friday distributions every week for months at Herman Clark Stadium. The effort started off helping over 1,000 families per week and that need has increased to close to 3,000 families.
This Friday will be the last mobile market at the stadium. TAFB is working with Fort Worth ISD to extend that location agreement.
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The food bank has also expanded and focused on daily distributions in between 40 to 45 mobile markets spread out across high need ZIP codes in Tarrant County. In fact, they are distributing more food through these markets than they are through their 350 partner agencies right now.
Butner said she is still taking matters day by day and week by week. She participates in a weekly call with Judge Glenn Whitley and the Tarrant County public health department to learn about current coronavirus statistics. She said she is also in very close contact with Feeding America and the federal government subsidies that TAFB receives.
“So much of what we are still able to distribute today is still coming from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Texas Department of Agriculture so it’s really, really helping us,” said Butner. "So we’re staying in touch with that network to make sure that food supplies are steady and can handle this increase in volume."
TAFB also received its fiscal year report in September and it was a record breaker.
Butner said they never distributed this much food or spent this much money distributing that food in its 40-year history than they have this year. Lately, the need has stayed steady and high.
“It has leveled out, we're not seeing the wave of up and down up and down but it is very steady at 40% higher distribution rate than what we were accustomed to pre-COVID,” she said. “So a lot of new families, people that are in need for the first time that I've lost their jobs because of the pandemic.”
Currently, there is also a new focus on a particular ZIP code, 76104. Butner said it has been known for its high mortality rates from COVID-19, along with other major issues pertaining to health and food insecurity.
"It's a food desert. They don't have any retailers, all they have are convenient stores. No grocery stores,” she said. “There's no transportation, there are no health clinics. There are no community centers or recreation centers, and we've just got huge issues."
TAFB is now working on a new, specific holiday distribution for that ZIP code in addition to a wellness bus to help people find access to health resources.
"We're trying to find the funding for it to actually take into that ZIP Code and provide not only emergency food and emergency meals, but nutrition education and access to other social services like like SNAP benefits, Medicaid, and WIC referrals," Butner said.
She added that she has plans to discuss the matter further with Fort Worth city council soon.
The food bank is also gearing up for a very busy holiday season.
Next Friday morning on Nov. 20, holiday distribution kicks off with a mega mobile market event in the parking lot of AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Click here to volunteer to help.
On Dec. 15, TAFB will be at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth for a food distribution with The Goodfellow Fund. Another distribution is planned for Dec. 17 at Globe Life Field in Arlington.