The Community FoodBank of San Benito County typically has a steady stream of volunteers who put in thousands of countless hours worth of work per year.
However, there seems to be a critical shortage of assistance that could potentially jeopardize local families and individuals who are food insecure.
Community FoodBank CEO Nancy Frusetta said the staff is already small to begin with and they can’t run the facility at full speed without volunteers.
“We really count on supplementing our resources with volunteers and I really did not expect the spike that we’re experiencing right now,” she said. “I don’t think any of us could’ve predicted it.”
The staff returned from the holiday break and they had numerous volunteers cancel on them during the first week of January. It also happened to be the same week the National Guard was going to be redeployed but they didn’t show up, either.
“It kind of hit us all at once,” she said. “But I completely understand because a lot of our volunteers are seniors. Safety comes first.”
The lack of volunteers also forced the food bank to close down the Marketplace–where people can “shop” for food–and switch back to a drive-thru service. Frusetta said it’s the safest environment for everybody involved.
However, she said the number of people who are food insecure in San Benito County is still high.
“We really need to meet the need,” she said.
Second Harvest of Silicon Valley and four other Bay Area food banks also have a critical shortage of volunteers and are reaching out to the public for assistance.
Collectively, Bay Area food banks feed about 1 million people each month.
Second Harvest, Alameda County Community Food Bank and San Francisco Marin Food bank are reporting an increase in requests for home delivery of free groceries, as more people are forced to isolate due to exposure or illness related to the omicron variant.
Volunteer rates at food banks tend to be traditionally slow between January and March after the holiday season, but this year’s drop was more significant as employers, schools and communities reinstate stay-at-home policies, according to Diane Baker Hayward of Second Harvest, which serves Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.
Frusetta said they’ll continue to have a trio of National Guard soldiers to help. But not having volunteer help has been a huge impact because they’ve had to switch operations, which means it’s all hands on deck.
“In addition to all that, our own team is getting potentially exposed and ill,” she said. “Knock on wood we’ve never had to close our doors because of a Covid outbreak and we want to keep it that way. It just increases the stress level all the way around.”
Community FoodBank will continue to use its drive-thru service until the end of this month before reevaluating the situation. They are using social media sites and sending out emails to regular volunteers as a way to bring in more help.
Frusetta said she’s optimistic that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and things should start to turn around for the better.
“As soon as we start to see those reports of the [Covid case] numbers going down, I think we’re going to see people coming back,” she said. For more information about the Community FoodBank of San Benito, including how to donate or help out, visit communityfoodbankofsbc.org/ or call 831.637.0340.