BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — As soon as the pandemic hit and the stay-at-home order went into effect in late March, Peter Vogel and his staff at the South Michigan Food Bank ordered as much food as possible.
They didn’t know how long it would last and they wanted to make sure they had enough food, he said.
Fortunately, they did.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the food bank has seen a 64 percent increase in food distribution since this time last year, he said.
“From my perspective this community has never needed this food bank more than it does right now,” Vogel said during an interview with Fox 17. “We are a community resource.”
On Wednesday, dozens of staff members and volunteers packed hundreds of boxes with a variety of foods from apples, potatoes, bread and juice boxes.
They typically have a group come in for the morning shift to pack boxes and another one for the afternoon. However, lately they’ve needed more help, he said.
“The need has been so great, two or three nights a week now we’re actually having to do an evening shift to be able to continue to box up food,” said Vogel, CEO of the food bank.
The boxes are then distributed to other partners, local pantries and during their mobile food drive events, where cars line up bumper-to-bumper to receive a box from the warehouse.
Typically, 80-100 families receive a box he said.
However, Tuesday afternoon, they saw 415 families.
“One of the things I wanted our staff to track was how many people are new to the food bank world altogether and have never really need help before,” Vogel said. “And strange, I thought that number would be somewhere between 30-50 percent. We’re finding the numbers of people that never needed help before coming in for food is about 70 percent.”
Vogel said he understands that it can be embarrassing to ask for help. So the mobile food pantry allows people to keep their identities concealed instead of shopping at an actual pantry.
They’re just glad to be able help, he said.
The food bank has been around for 38 years and they see themselves as a part of the community. Last year they gave away 177,000 pounds of food.
“The last three weeks we have moved 330,000 pounds, 336,000 pounds and last week was 349,000 pounds,” Vogel said. “For the last I would say month to six weeks, we’ve easily double what we normally do.”
The amount they gave away last week set a record for most ever in the food bank's history, he said. However he’s uncertain about when it’ll all end.
Vogel’s just grateful for all the volunteers who help. They’re always looking for more.
“A lot of the people that have been really regular and have been really supportive of us, some of them are starting to go back to work,” Vogel said. “But we’re not finding the need decreasing. So we’re going to start to reach out and ask for more help for volunteers.”