Commentary: Food Bank and helpers provide vital emergency service

By Gwen Guerke

Less than a month ago, food insecurity – for many people – was a situation that other people had to deal with. Society, for the most part, was “normal” and fairly comfortable: most people went to work, paid their bills, provided for their families, and confident there would be snacks and three meals a day. And at that time COVID-19 was a problem contained far from home.

By March 22, normal changed: the virus was no longer a distant blip on the horizon. Gov. John Carney complied with federal guidelines, shuttering non-essential businesses and altering the way others were permitted to stay open.

What does this pandemic have to do with the Food Bank of Delaware? Everything!

Food is still a human necessity. All of the 60-plus employees at the Food Bank recognize the face of hunger in the First State and know that our mission to eradicate hunger is vital. Now our community has become painfully aware that we’re essential.

“This is a wake-up call. I know now I have a first responder mentality,” explained the Food Bank’s Community Relations Director Chad Robinson. With nearly a decade of experience at the Food Bank coupled with volunteer service at the Harrington Fire Co., Robinson speaks of the demands placed on the Food Bank as first responders. It’s a reliable resource for hungry people supported by a network of what Mr. Robinson calls helpers.

Many First State residents and their legislators have a history of supporting the Food Bank’s mission, and most are conceptually aware of Food Bank programs that provide food and nutritional education for students, mothers and young children, and senior citizens. Fewer are familiar with collateral support and long-term programs promoting independence, including workforce development and agricultural-based initiatives. But in the last few weeks, in addition to the fear of contracting COVID-19, formerly self-sufficient citizens faced job furloughs, loss of income and health insurance, child care, and even the most basic necessity – food. No one has escaped some economic fallout from this global pandemic.

People who earned a paycheck two weeks ago now wait for an unemployment check and maybe a federal stimulus payment, and they wonder if they will have a job when this is over. In the meantime, they still need to eat and pay bills.

That’s why the Food Bank is vital. Obviously, the Food Bank is not simply a food resource, but thanks to the generosity of individuals, civic groups and corporations, we are a well-oiled machine, acutely connected to deliver products and services to those who need it most.  The actual process is quite complex. It literally requires a village, a skilled and compassionate team – from warehouse personnel, truck drivers, customer service folks – with kind hearts and patience – to provide food for those who need it. In this time of crisis, we are thankful for all these heroes as well as healthy volunteers, everyone who mails a check, those who have called to see how they could help, food processors and retailers who have helped replenish our stock.

“We have a real-life mission, impacting people’s lives in a meaningful way. I’ve come to realize even more that an emergency food system is vital,” Robinson said. “There is an incredible need in the community, and the community realizes we’re not just another non-profit. We really do have a role, now and in a time of peace.”

Peace – or the absence of a crisis situation – will eventually be restored, but Robinson notes that not everyone will be immediately secure. “When we go back to normal – whatever that is – people will still be hungry. This is a wake-up call. We are essential, and there will still be a need. The problem of hunger is not going away, and it will go on much longer for many of us.”

Be a hero in your own way and visit to see how you can support your neighbors – and maybe your own family.

Gwen Guerke is Communications Coordinator of Food Bank of Delaware.