As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, so does the number of people with food insecurity, a reality Berkeley food organizations have been working to combat during the holiday season.
Among the many local food organizations, Berkeley Food and Housing Project, or BFHP, Berkeley Food Network, or BFN, and Berkeley Food Pantry are committed to providing for individuals experiencing food insecurity in and beyond the city. Just as they have adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, the three organizations have shifted operations accordingly for the holiday season.
Similar to a typical year, Sara Webber, Berkeley Food Network executive director, and Dharma Galang, Berkeley Food Pantry director, said they have provided holiday-themed food for Thanksgiving and will do the same for December, offering turkey, cranberries and seasonal produce, to name a few.
In place of its daily community meal, BFHP handed out 200 t0 300 Thanksgiving meals from its shelter on Dwight Way, according to Calleene Egan, executive director.
“For the Thanksgiving meal, we’ve also put together a goody bag for all of the participants,” Egan said. “They’ll be receiving socks, an umbrella, there’s hygiene products in it, there’s also cookies in it and it’s packed in a backpack so that they can just put it on their back, grab their to-go meal and be on their way.”
Egan added that BFHP plans to do the same in December, keeping in mind that those it is serving may have to endure the cold of the winter without shelter.
BFHP usually relies on volunteers to assist with operations, Egan said. Since the pandemic, however, all volunteer opportunities have been canceled until further notice, prompting many to help from afar.
“We’ve had a lot of volunteers that are annual volunteers or participate with us on a weekly or monthly basis, and they’re eager,” Egan said. “They still want to help us, which is awesome, so there’s been a lot of, like, ‘Okay, well what supplies do you need?’ and then they’re reaching out to their networks to get us what we need.”
Egan added that the nonprofit organization is extremely thankful for the creativity and collaboration of its former volunteers and has hired more staff to continue handing out 100 to 150 hot meals on weekdays.
On the other hand, Berkeley Food Network has put safety precautions in place to recruit volunteers to run the on-site pantry, prepack bags and stock the warehouse, according to Webber.
Both Berkeley Food Network and Berkeley Food Pantry are looking for volunteers and are open to any donations those in the community can provide, according to Webber and Galang.
“We’ve just been really fortunate that Berkeley is such a great community,” Webber said. “It’s really stepped up to help us out during these times, and we hope they’ll continue to do that because we imagine that it’s going to continue to be a high-need situation for quite some time.”