Not everything is back to normal at Berkeley Food Pantry sites

Staff Sgt. Nathan Maysonet/Creative Commons
Donations to the Berkeley Food Pantry have decreased despite the fact that the need for food remains high.

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Clients visited Berkeley Food Network’s onsite pantry 1,600 times a week in February 2020. This number increased to 5,000 in April of the same year and has since remained constant, according to Berkeley Food Network, or BFN, office manager Erika Larson.

During the pandemic, BFN has seen an increase in donations, Larson said. She added that it’s been proactive in sourcing donations through independent farmers in a program where BFN trains farmhands to run their own organic farms and provides produce in exchange for job training.

Berkeley Food Pantry, or BFP, director Dharma Galang said the pandemic forced the pantry to distribute pre-packed groceries in an outside building and start a home delivery service. While demand has increased, the food supply has fluctuated throughout the last year and a half, Galang added.

Food pantries started serving people who lost their jobs during the pandemic, in addition to the working families with children, people with disabilities, the elderly and college students that they usually serve, according to Galang. She also said trucking disruptions affected the transportation of food to food banks.

“The food donations, we really love it because it’s the primary source for fruits and vegetables,” Galang said. “We partner with 11 stores, and that’s something that we’re really proud of. There was the whole issue last year with those donations dropping. Since then, we’ve been able to increase the amount of food we provide to people.”

BFP receives bimonthly deliveries of shelf-stable foods, meat, eggs, some vegetables and staple items from the food bank, Galang noted. A significant portion of BFN’s supply comes from individual community members, Larson said.

She added that the group has partnered with the Fresh Food Connect app, which allows food pantries to pick up excess harvest from local gardeners and backyard farmers by bike and car.

“We’re hoping that community involvement and community donations can be a huge part of the future of Berkeley Food Network,” Larson said.

Galang urged donors not to assume food demand is low, as people are still recovering from the ongoing pandemic and struggling to afford housing. She added that not everything is “fine,” even though vaccinations or the media portray a dramatic improvement.

Compared to during the height of the pandemic, when the community was highly aware of the need, donations have decreased, said Galang.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, the pandemic’s over, everyone’s vaccinated, everything’s reopening, everything is fine,’ ” Larson said. “But for people on the ground floor, the basic working people, it’s going to take a lot longer for some of us to get back to normal and that includes t​​he ability to get fresh and nutritious food. That would probably be our biggest challenge, challenging the idea that everything is back to normal, because it’s not, unfortunately.”

Contact Andie Liu at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @andiemliu.