More than a year into pandemic, food banks still struggling with shortages

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AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL) – Food pantries such as the Food Bank of East Alabama are still suffering from food shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Food Bank East Alabama is part of the national organization, Feeding America, which is based out of Chicago. There are more than 200 food banks based in Alabama. Each has a specific area they cater to. Food Bank East Alabama is responsible for areas such as Randolph County, Barbour County and everything in between those two counties.

Executive Director Martha Henk said they look for churches and non-profit organizations with outreach programs for the community to offer them access to their food bank.

“We offer them access to the food you see behind me that has come down from the National Food Network, food that we have purchased or have gotten from some other food banks,” Henk said.

Henk told News 3 when the pandemic began, her food bank was unable to go to the grocery store and purchase food. They also stopped receiving as many donations from those in the community and trucking companies.

“It was a really scary time, I started watching these racks behind us get more, more and more empty. I was really concerned because there was a great amount of food that was flowing out, we’ve learned a lot about supply chain and how complicated that is. We’ve always just sort of taken that for granted in the past and it really is a more complicated thing,” Henk said.

During the beginning of the pandemic, only one-third of the pantries in Alabama were operating at full capacity. Because of this, Henk said she and her team had to think outside the box to help surrounding pantries and those in the community who were in need.

“One of the things that we had to do is step up and take a little bit more of an active role. So we started doing some packing of boxes here, driving them to areas where we had arranged to drop them off. They were primarily around schools because kids couldn’t get school meals. We got boxes of food delivered where the families could come and get it,” Henk said.

Henk said even though we’re more than a year into the pandemic, they’re still experiencing shortages of food.

“We’re still seeing some shortages that are really challenging, I guess you could say. I don’t know about you but I still see shelves at the grocery stores that are pretty empty. I was reading this week that the most recent thing is there’s a shortage of aluminum which means canned goods are going to be in short supply,” Henk said.

According to Henk, when she began working at the food bank one out eleven Alabama residents were food insecure and now that number is one out of five.

“In my surface area one out of four children in our service area live in homes that are food insecure and they’re just not assured of having an adequate diet year-round. So we have a big job ahead of us, in the service area that my food bank is responsible for there are about 54,000 people that are food insecure. I’m a big believer in the fact that you can’t do everything but you can do something,” Henk said.

Students at Tuskegee University have stepped up to help in their community. A full class of students came to the food bank to volunteer and pack boxes of food for those in need. Seniors Madison Washington and Kieylon Bodie said they enjoy giving back to those in need.

“I love to volunteer, I always liked giving back to my community. Even just growing up I’ve volunteered at a lot of places, I’ve also volunteered at the food bank before in Tuscaloosa and I love how it’s just a different environment here as well. I just love giving back to the less fortunate and just anybody in the community,” Washington said.

“I believe that it was a great opportunity that our classmate brought to us, as far as getting involved in the community. I know with everything going on as far as COVID, it’s great that it gives us a chance to give back and get out there and show that we still care and do what little bit we can for our community,” Bodie said.

Bodie and Washington aren’t the only ones who enjoy giving back to the community. After 26 years of service, Henk is still thrilled to lend a helping hand to those in need.

“I really consider it a privilege, to me, it’s like what’s not to love. You know what, you’re helping to eliminate wasted food and you’re helping to feed people, that’s pretty cool,” Henk said.

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