LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - As the coronavirus pandemic continues to financially strain communities, organizations that rely on donations are getting hit hard.
“The pandemic has really presented a triple whammy. We see an increased need for food. We see a decline in food donations, and then also some significant disruptions to the charitable systems operating models,” says East Alabama Food Bank Executive Director Martha Henk. “You know, the logistics of getting the food to the right place at the right time is a challenge, even during normal times but you throw in social distancing and volunteers worried about their safety and then a decline in product, then it gets downright daunting."
Henk says one of the biggest challenges is getting the food to distribute.
“Not only find the food, but then to be able to purchase it and so this has really required food banks to step outside of their normal method of operating,” said Henk. "We tend to rely mostly on food that is donated down through the food bank network, and instead we’re getting some food that way and some USDA food but we’re also having to purchase food, and that’s a pretty heavy financial drain.”
Henk said many food banks have seen about a 70 percent increase in the need for food, but a 30 percent decrease in food donations.
“When you have more food going out than you have coming in, you start to see a warehouse that’s getting more and more thin and we’ve really been concerned as our food supply has dwindled,” said Henk.
For United Way of Lee County, their donations also impact how well they’re able to serve the community.
“Donations are the only means of support. If those are diminished in any way then we’re not able to be as effective,” said United Way of Lee County Executive Director Becky Benton.
Benton said they’re just now staring to see a financial change.
“We’re fortunate in that the major fundraising happens in the fall of the previous year, and then those donations for the most part are deducted from individuals payroll deductions, starting in January," she said. “So, now would be just when we’re seeing those individuals who had been laid off or had reduced hours because of the COVID-19 virus. We’re starting to see that impact.”
Both organizations share concerns about their future.
“Are we going to be able to go to the employees and talk on a face to face basis about the work we’re doing in the community? About how we’re impacting families and people’s health, and education? It’s much more effective if you’re able to speak to someone one on one,” Benton said. “So, not knowing if we going to have to change our method of communication to individuals is one of the questions that we have in the fundraising coming up. We need to be able to tell our story to get out there and let people know that their contributions make a difference in the communities.”
“This is going to be a long term problem. Now is not the time to let up on the gas. Now is the time to just gather as many resources as we can so that we can be prepared for the next six months, the next 12 months,” Henk said.
“I think there are people with resources that have realized that they really do need to step up, that now is the time. Now’s the time to make a difference and that there’s something very concrete, that they can do, and so we’ve actually seen strong financial donations coming in lately,” Henk said. “We tend to respond when we see the need, but we also sometimes have a hard time sticking with it for the long haul, and the truth is this is going to be a long term problem. Kids are going to need to continue to eat, families are going to continue to need support as they as they adjust to the new normal. So, now is not the time to let up on the gas. Now is the time for us to just gather as many resources as we can so that we can be prepared for the next six months, the next 12 months that will be very challenging.”
Both organizations are currently accepting donations.