Much has changed in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, including local food banks and hunger relief efforts.
Members of the Rotary Club of Mercer Island volunteer once a month through Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) along with other regional Rotarians and community members. They have work parties to help repack donated produce so it is more easily distributed to various hunger relief organizations.
HAH is a program of Rotary District 5030 (greater Seattle area). The organization receives large donations of produce, which they then repack and distribute to food relief organizations across the state. David Bobanick, HAH CEO and a member of Mercer Island Rotary, said they have about 100 regional Rotarians who volunteer with them to repack truckloads of produce.
The most recent work party on March 14 happened a little differently. In order to limit contact and practice safe social distancing, fewer volunteers are now able to work and they have to stay further apart.
Bobanick said hunger relief efforts, food banks and meal services are essential, so they will continue, and they still need volunteers, but they have had to make some modifications. For example, he said local food banks are now giving pre-packed boxes of food to folks at the door, rather than letting people come in and shop to select their items.
Bobanick said many hunger relief organizations are reporting major reductions in numbers of volunteers. He said the reduction is understandable as many people — including seniors who often volunteer — do not want to put themselves at risk, or they are self-quarantining because they are immunocompromised or otherwise high risk.
He still gently encourages folks to volunteer if they are able to do so, and he noted that places are taking extra precautions to keep people safe.
“If you are healthy and able to volunteer at your local food bank, they could really use you right now,” he said.
The need is great in this time, especially with so many now losing their jobs, their hours, or even their businesses. Bobanick said he expects the need for hunger relief services to continue to rise.
He said volunteering is worthwhile and important to the community.
“Volunteering will give people a better sense of awareness throughout our communities of the need for hunger relief,” he said. “To be a part of the system that is providing relief in the community definitely gives people a deeper understanding of the needs for hunger relief in their community.”
Ways people can help without having to volunteer in person include sharing online and donating to local organizations.
He also noted some other food industry concerns. With so many grocery stores being wiped clean from everyone stocking up, the items typically leftover on shelves that would normally go to food banks are no longer there. Costs increase for food banks as they have to purchase more food due to the loss. They also have to spend money and time packing up food in new ways.
Bobanick also noted that local farmers may be struggling with farmers markets canceled and restaurants no longer able to purchase from them.
To learn more about Harvest Against Hunger go online to https://www.harvestagainsthunger.org/.
Other changes to Rotary Club of Mercer Island during the coronavirus outbreak include the cancellation of events — such as the half marathon — and also the club’s weekly meetings on Tuesdays. Some members are still having group calls with each other, as they enjoy the camaraderie.
To learn more about the Rotary Club of Mercer Island go online to http://www.mirotary.org/.