Food banks, pantries face increasing demands in Berkeley

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Food banks and pantries serving the Berkeley area have seen an increase in demand for their services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Berkeley Food Network and the Alameda County Community Food Bank have been working together to feed the Berkeley community and establish redistribution centers in response to economic need caused by COVID-19, according to Berkeley Food Network Executive Director Sara Webber. She added that Berkeley Food Network’s warehouse is used to ship food from the Alameda County Community Food Bank to other smaller distributors.

“In general, food bank services have gone up tremendously,” Webber said. “Specifically at Berkeley Food Network, the demand for our services has tripled since the middle of March.”

To fulfill this demand, Webber said the volunteer response has been “amazing.” Many volunteers continue to go to the food pantry weekly to help with food distribution.

The Alameda County Community Food Bank has seen its highest food distribution rate to date in May, according to spokesperson Michael Altfest.

According to Berkeley Food Pantry Director Dharma Galang, the pantry saw an initial spike in visitors and believes it will see an increase in visitors due to more business closures.

“Before the pandemic, we served around 1,600 people a month. It is now around 1,800 people a month,” Galang said in an email. “We provide enough groceries to last people 2 weeks. We also allow people to return and get more as needed.”

The Bayer Fund, a philanthropic effort from pharmaceutical company Bayer, donated a total of $600,000 to the Berkeley Food Network and the Alameda County Community Food Bank, which was announced May 19, after establishing a new entity of the fund that focuses on food security, according to Bayer Fund spokesperson Jennifer Cogley.

Cogley reached out to the nonprofit organizations because she noticed the “innovation” of food redistribution. The Bayer Fund has worked with the Alameda County Community Food Bank for several years, so she knew the fund would be well-positioned to engage with the organization, according to Cogley.

“We learned a lot from the Berkeley Food Network and what they were doing, and what the two organizations were doing together,” said Bayer HealthCare spokesperson Cathy Keck. “They came together with a proposal that the Bayer Fund approved.”

The Bayer Fund wants to encourage nonprofits to do something new and different, according to Keck.

Both Keck and Cogley said they noticed the long-term impacts of redistribution, meaning this method could be used after the pandemic to help smaller food assistance programs.

“The Berkeley Food Network and Alameda County Food Bank already had this plan in mind,” Cogley said. “When we saw this terrific relationship and a strong desire to do something new and more efficient and reach more people in need, it was an easy decision to support really terrific players.”

Contact Shylie Ati at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shylieati.