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Food banks continue to serve amid tightening supply chain

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

More and more people in York County are relying on food banks to sustain themselves and their families during the economic shutdown that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic, and food distributors are feeling the pinch.

The WELL – Food Pantry in York City has seen about a 25% increase in clients over the past month, said Director Patti Gohn, and it hasn't been easy keeping up with demand.

"It’s just all around more difficult, more difficult to get food," she said, "but we are still staying afloat."

Around 1.4 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment since March 15, when the first business closures went into effect to slow the spread of COVID-19, and many of those people are relying on food banks 

At the WELL – Food Pantry, Gohn said vegetables have been hard to come by, even the canned variety, because so many of their vegetables come from the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, which is also dealing with unprecedented demand.

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Hundreds of people lined up in their cars Tuesday to pick up groceries from the Eastern York Food Hub, a new distribution center at the former Kmart in Springettsbury Township for the York County Food Bank.

In New Freedom, the Southern York County Pantry has enough vegetables and pastas to sustain distribution for the next couple of months, said director Ruth Davis, but other items are in short supply.

More:Wolf: Pa. has no plans to extend stay-at-home order

More:York County Food Bank expands to second location as need grows

Hundreds of vehicles wait to pick up food during distribution at the East York Food Hub,  Tuesday, April 14, 2020. Hundreds of other vehicles waiting for the distribution were guided through a nearby neighborhood by fire police and Springettsbury Township Police to keep traffic flowing.
John A. Pavoncello photo

"Chicken," Davis said. "Chicken is impossible to find."

Along with chicken, Davis has had trouble securing some dry goods, canned meats, canned fruit, applesauce and pancake mix, which she said are usually staple items at the pantry.

In an average month, the Southern York County Pantry serves about 150 families, Davis said, and in March, that total increased to about 180.

Davis said she expects that number could reach 230 to 250 families for the month of April. 

"It’s going to take people a while to recover, for those that have been either displaced from work or had additional costs," she said.

As of Monday, there were 33,232 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Pennsylvania and 1,204 deaths attributed to the virus, according to the state Department of Health.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced a $16 million funding boost Saturday for food banks across the state.

The funding consists of $3.8 million in direct payments to 18 food banks to cover overhead costs such as storage, transportation and distribution of food, and $11.2 million worth of food to be distributed to food banks statewide.

There will also be $1 million in emergency funding for Hunger-Free Pennsylvania and its distribution network.

National food supply: Illness among employees at slaughterhouses, packaging plants and other stops in the national food supply chain have already sparked fears of shortages.

Smithfield Foods, based in Virginia, announced Sunday the indefinite closure of a pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after nearly 300 employees tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.

The Sioux Falls plant processes nearly 130 million servings of food per week, the AP reported.

The AP also reported that a week earlier, Tyson Foods shut down one of its pork processing plants in southeastern Iowa after more than two dozen employees tested positive for the virus.

— Reach Lindsey O'Laughlin at lolaughlin@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @lmolaughlin.