Food pantries big and small struggle to keep stocked

The food shelf has taken over the front lobby at Millennium Middle School in Seminole County.

The school has seen so much need in the community that leaders moved their food donations front and center so that families could simply drive up, get a bag of supplies put in their car, and drive off.

They could, until Friday.

"Most of this area was full last weekend,” said Millennium Principal Dr. Maggy Gunderson standing in the middle of the large, now empty lobby. "But as you can see right now: our cupboards are bare."

Gunderson said Seminole County Schools has been serving over 12,000 meals per day to students during the COVID-19 crisis. The school’s pantry simply ran out of donations and had to close temporarily on Friday.

The district did expect more help to come in throughout the day, but they, like food shelves all over the place right now are overwhelmed by more people in need than ever.

Last week, as Disney furloughed thousands of employees, leaders at the I-Drive Workers’ Support Center reported that their food shelves were quickly dwindling too.

"We're a little concerned that this is the beginning and we've got another month or possibly two,” said Michael Beacham, who runs the center.

A thinning shelf at Second Harvest Food Bank in Orlando.

Even larger food shelves like Second Harvest in Orlando are feeling the pinch of the Covid crisis.

"We are very, very busy,” said Second Harvest COO Bill Collins Friday.

Second Harvest still has supplies on their shelves but far fewer than they need to keep up, and Collins said they’re working with far fewer volunteers than normal to protect everyone in the building via social distancing.

Collins said they rely heavily on donations from grocers and commercial organizations but, just like Second Harvest, they are all dealing with increased demand right now too. So where the charity is used to daily truck-fulls of food, they’re now seeing trucks arrive every few days, and not always full.

The warehouse at Second Harvest Food Bank in Orlando.

Collins said one of the biggest challenges all around right now is that the current situation is new for everyone. Many of their new clients have never had to seek them out before, and the food shelves have never had to fill this massive amount of need for so long.

Second Harvest and the smaller shelves all say they can’t take on many volunteers right now, so the best way people can help is to just give, if they can.

"We want to see a monetary donation because we don't need another food stream in here we'd have to quarantine or put aside,” said Collins.