On February 25, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank launched its 2020 Harvest for Hunger, its biggest annual fundraiser, with a goal of $1.32 million and 100,000 pounds of food.
And then came COVID-19, and with it Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order.
“It brought so much uncertainty,” said President and CEO Dan Flowers. “And at the same time, we had an explosion of demand at the food bank. By early April, our inventory had reached a 10-year low.”
Flowers spoke in mid-October about the food bank’s extraordinary year.
Q. After that first surge in March and April, were you able to get the food bank back on its feet fairly quickly?
A. “We had to. By the time we got into May, individuals, foundations and government sources all started to come on line with support. We were able to make additional food purchases, which we don’t normally do. Most is donated to us. But to keep up with demand, we went out and purchased more than ever with donations.”
Q. With so many people newly out of work, were you seeing lots of new people in need?
A. “Since the pandemic started, about 30% of people coming to us are first-time clients. Unemployment is a big driver; underemployment is another. Distribution overall is 20% ahead of last year.”
Q. The National Guard has provided crucial help at the food bank, correct?
A. “They’ve been the biggest help, and we have them with us till the end of the year. In the early days of COVID, we closed for our volunteers. The National Guard showed up on March 24, and for the first two months, it was just our staff and National Guard. They brought these big LMTV trucks. They have done over 650 deliveries on their trucks for us, traveled over 40,000 miles.”
Q. Have there been some massive food giveaways?
A. “We started doing food drops on these big trucks, setting up in parking lots. That was a game-changer for us. We started cranking out pre-made food boxes, thousands and thousands of them, and giving them out at parking lots for these long lines of cars.”
Q. You’d never done anything remotely of this magnitude before?
A. “No. We’ve gone through a lot together. Some very long days and some really overwhelming lines. Our first giveaways back in March—we were all anxious. We’d get a line a mile long. We had as many as 1,800 cars come through in two hours. It was really exhausting.”
Q. How did COVID-19 play into all this? Were you all wearing masks?
A. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we were told masks don’t help. I bet most of us had stuck our heads in the backseats of 1,000 cars without masks. Our staff and the National Guard, we accepted whatever risk came with this work. Now, of course, we take every precaution imaginable.”
Q. I’m sure the food bank has a lot of need. How can people help out?
A. “There’s still so much uncertainty with the pandemic, and the level of service is up so much higher than usual. We hope people remember us financially. People can give at our website, AkronCantonFoodbank.org. Every dollar given equals four meals. We need cash and also volunteers.”
Q. A bright spot on the horizon is the new food bank facility.
A. “That’s right. We have a brand-new building going up on Cherry Avenue that’s scheduled to open next summer.”