Our COVID-19 Story

Little more than a year ago, COVID-19 was not much more than a news story. Soon though, it was at our doorstep and it quickly became the central focus for our staff, our clients, and our community.

How will we distribute food? How will we source food? How can we keep staff, volunteers, and clients safe? The questions came faster than the answers, but like so many, we found a way to adapt and, in the process, became a better organization for having gone through it.

March 2020

Literally overnight, we transitioned our pantries from client-choice to drive-through food distribution.

The change in process required significantly more resources, putting even greater strain on our staff and volunteers. We had no choice but to reduce our pantry hours, alternating Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in Fort Collins, and Tuesday and Thursday in Loveland. It was far from ideal, but it was necessary to keep our pantry doors open.

Image of a line of cars on a snowy day at the Food Bank.
Image of a Food Bank client loading groceries into her car.

Increased Need

Paradoxically, just when the need was increasing, our ability to source and distribute food was constrained. Safety requirements, fear, and supply chain issues all coalesced into a single bottleneck. In time we overcame these challenges, but the increased need remains.

We weren’t the only ones feeling the pinch as our agency partners saw a spike in need as well. In the last 12 months, we distributed 71.2% more food to our agency partners than the prior year and spent $298,619 ensuring they had food for the individuals they serve.

Alternative Distribution

As the smoke cleared, we were able to look holistically at the challenges to find new solutions. One example is our pop-up pantries. A variation on our mobile pantry program, these seemingly random “pop-ups” were anything but as we worked with multiple community partners to find just the right location to get food to underserved areas of our community.

Our pop-up pantries weren’t the only mobile distribution program running at full steam. Our Nutritious Kitchen shifted gears entirely to serve remote learning support centers throughout the county. In all, they prepared 171,978 child, senior, and community meals and snacks.

Photo of a volunteer at a Food Bank pop-up pantry.
Image of a Food Bank volunteer selecting food to be distributed.

Support System

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That was certainly the approach our Volunteer team took working to crack our volunteer shortage after we lost 65% of regular volunteers in the first months of COVID-19. How do we recruit and retain an army of new volunteers during a pandemic? The answer, in part, was to demonstrate our COVID safety protocols. Little by little, our volunteer ranks increased to help us meet the need.

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Food for today. Food for tomorrow. These are always goals for our clients, COVID-19 or not. One program that has helped our clients provide food for tomorrow is SNAP Outreach. Our team works with individuals to sign up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that can provide thousands of dollars in additional food support. Individuals then spend those dollars locally, generating an economic impact estimated at more than $4.9 million* during the last 12 months.

*Impact calculated using Feeding America’s SNAP Impact Calculator 2020, based on 1,401 SNAP applications submitted.

Image of a Food Bank employee assisting a client in signing up for SNAP benefits.
Image of a Food Bank staff member distributing food at a mobile pantry.

At What Cost?

There are incalculable costs associated with the pandemic. There are, of course, the hundreds of thousands of souls who have perished because of this virus. There are countless more who have lost their job and their home to the economic havoc caused by the pandemic.

For those costs we can calculate, they are staggering. In the last 12 months, the Food Bank has spent 37% more on food, transportation, staffing, and other COVID-19-related costs. That’s more than $1.6 million more compared to the previous year. Although the monetary costs have been high, we are fortunate to have an amazing community that has stepped up to support those in need.

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The Other Side

So how does this story end? For us, it doesn’t. Feeding America estimates that as many as 1 in 8 people, including 1 in 6 children, may experience food insecurity in 2021. Locally, we expect the lingering economic effects of the pandemic to continue long after the virus has been eradicated. Our plan is simple: feed, connect, and innovate.

We’re working to feed our community through alternative distribution methods by creating mobile markets, increasing the number of child meal sites, and expanding delivery to senior housing complexes. We’re connecting with our community by investing in partnerships that reach underserved communities, expand our SNAP Outreach, and ensure individuals have access to programs and education beyond the Food Bank. And we’re focusing on innovation by implementing technology to better understand, reach, and serve our existing clients and those who are not yet our clients.