As food banks and meal distribution centers work to feed as many people as possible, they are seeking help from the community through volunteers.
Jordan Lyle, Marketing and Public Relations Specialist for Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County, said they have increased meal production by more than 80% since the beginning of the pandemic. Though they offer several different services, their main service is the home-delivered meal program which also includes a wellness check. On an average day, Lyle said they deliver more than 5,600 meals to about 3,000 clients.
The ask for more volunteers as they approach the holiday season is common, Lyle said. However, the need is also due to pandemic.
“We just have people practicing those safety guidelines and if they have any sense of exposure, even if they don’t feel well and they’re not sure what’s going on, we’re asking them to stay home,” Lyle told NBC 5. “We also just need substitute drivers for those routes where some of those long term volunteers are out for the holidays or people are having to stay home to protect themselves and our clients. Things like that. So, the more sub drivers we have, the less likely we are to get into a situation where we’re having to send out staff or make our current volunteers double up on routes.”
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Currently, they have 30 open routes in need of dedicated volunteers who can assist once a week for about an hour and a half during lunch hours. Lyle said they are looking for people who are committed to helping through the end of the year.
“There’s so much work going into getting you ready to volunteer, that we really would like to have you on hand for at least a brief amount of time,” she explained. “Also, our clients benefit from seeing a familiar face every week rather than having a new face. It’s nice to see someone that feels like a friend, especially during this pandemic.”
Leah Hawkins has been volunteering for more than 15 years.
“If you can follow directions and read a map and count, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to do this,” Hawkins said Wednesday. “It’s very fulfilling. The people on the routes, I mean…some of them really need some contact every day. They just need to see a friendly face and know that somebody cares about them.”
The Tarrant Area Food Bank has also experienced an increase in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic. Julie Butner, CEO and President of the Tarrant Food Bank, described the past eight months as a “roller coaster” in terms of food production.
“We went as high as 80% higher than pre-covid times,” Butner said. “We have now kind of leveled out. I would say in the last two or three months, we’re averaging about 40% higher distribution needs than pre-COVID.”
Their newest distribution site at Metro Opportunity High School served around 500 people by noon Wednesday, which is the first day they began offering food at the Fort Worth high school. Cars wrapped around outside as people waited to receive between 80 and 100 pounds of food.
Ava Stevenson of Fort Worth said prior to this year, she had never used services from the food bank.
“Thank God for being able to take advantage of this,” Stevenson told NBC 5. “This really helps me manage, try to manage, my bills and keep food on the table for me and my son.”
An increased need for food during the holiday season is something Butner said they see year after year, but she attributed the demand Wednesday due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
“Until the economy gets fully opened and people get their jobs back, we’re not going to see this change. In fact, it’s very concerning to me that our COVID cases are actually increasing not decreasing,” she said. “As COVID cases increase, there’s the threat of the economy shutting down again. We just hope every day that we don’t see any more increases and that people will follow the safety guidelines recommended by the county and health department, so we can get this COVID situation under control.”
Butner added, the community has been generous during the challenging times. While the food supply is not at a risk, they could use more volunteers.
“We do not need food. We need volunteers to help work outside and we need funding to support this increase in demand,” she said.
Anyone interested in volunteering with Meals on Wheels is urged to visit their website.
For more information on Tarrant Area Food Bank distributions, click here.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.