Ukiah Food Bank seeing more customers, more donations

Jun 2, 2020

June 2, 2020 — The economic fallout from the pandemic has  driven a lot of new clients to local food banks. At the same time, employees and volunteers are staying home in greater numbers, which means these organizations have to scramble to figure out how to distribute food.

Jacque Williams is the Executive Director of the Ford Street Project in Ukiah, a non-profit organization with a variety of programs aimed at substance abuse disorders, poverty, homelessness, and hunger. One of those programs is the food bank on the south end of town. 

Williams says she thinks the generous unemployment benefits have acted as a temporary buffer between the recently  unemployed and hunger. But as those benefits run out and the economy continues to worsen over the next year or so, she expects even more people to turn to the food bank.

Drew Iacomini Hair is the director of the food bank and the community support and housing programs at the Ford Street Project. She reported that, while the food bank usually spends about a thousand dollars a month on food, that went up fourfold in April alone. Since the end of December, the food bank started serving an additional two hundred ninety three new households. The local food bank gets some of its supply through a contract with Redwood Empire Food Bank in Sonoma County, which is part of Feeding America, a national organization that purchases odd-sized produce from farmers. It also gets USDA support from the Fort Bragg food bank, and purchases from local grocery stores, which also make donations.

Donations of all kinds have gone up, including three thousand pounds of walnuts from a local farmer with orchards to the south. And Assemblyman Jim Wood’s office put the food bank in touch with a dairy in Ferndale that lost a significant portion of its customer base after the shutdown. Williams also reported that some people have handed over their stimulus checks.

Iacomini Hair added that a key piece of infrastructure recently showed up in the parking lot: a large refrigeration unit full of dairy products, courtesy of Redwood Empire Food Bank.

But extra donations mean lots of extra work. And, like a lot of charitable organizations, the food bank relied heavily on volunteers, many of them retired people who are extra vulnerable to the virus. Williams is trying to figure out how to add more staff; “but it’s hard to find operational dollars to spend on staff for food banks.”

Part of the reshuffle means that there’s no more distribution on Saturdays. But some of the more vulnerable customers get individual delivery, some out as far as Old River Road in Hopland. The food bank also makes a bulk dropoff at the senior apartments at the Sun House Museum.

Like everything else during the pandemic, procedures are changing fast at the food bank. Last week, Williams was thinking about how community spread could force the organization to change its methods again, distributing pre-packaged food outdoors with even less contact between people, even fewer people coming into the building, and even more food headed out the door. “I think the supply chain is going through a real remodeling,” she observed.