In the first weeks of this crisis, the lack of food from these sources was offset by restaurants, hotels, and catering firms that donated their inventories as the shutdown began. But that was a onetime windfall—and some of it was food packaged in industrial sizes that work well in large commercial kitchens but poorly for parceling out to families. To compensate for the dearth of rescued food, Feeding San Diego is now purchasing wholesale in the same system where grocery stores themselves are accelerating orders. Food banks are also having to pay premium prices. The day we spoke, Hall authorized a $97,000 purchase of chicken and pork.
Facing Hunger Foodbank in West Virginia used to serve about 129,000 people on a typical day. Its executive director, Cynthia D. Kirkhart, witnessed the same sharp rise in demand after her state issued its stay-at-home order. Then the retail donations that the food bank receives from partners such as Walmart and Kroger shrank by roughly 90 percent, and delivery times for purchased food grew from a week to eight or 10 weeks. “Between March 30 and April 8, I placed orders in excess of $487,000 for food, and some of it won’t be arriving until late June, but at least I’ll have a regular influx coming in,” she told me. “My total budget for this year was about $500,000. My reworked budget is going to look more like $1.2 million to $1.5 million, and that’s with an optimistic outlook for what happens with this pandemic and how long we are in recovery.”