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Drive-thru mobile pantries could be here to stay

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

The Food Bank of Delaware has hosted over 140 drive-thru pantries since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.


And it’s now looking for ways to serve hungry Delawareans post-pandemic.


The Food Bank drastically changed its distribution systems during COVID, shuttering its warehouses in Newark and Milford and opting to host monthly drive-thru pantries in each county.


Now, as Delaware slowly emerges from the pandemic, the Food Bank is examining how this new food delivery program can be utilized in the future.


Food Bank president Cathy Kanefsky says food insecure residents often face a stigma when seeking help.


“What the pandemic has done is it’s really shined a light on the need and people have become more aware of our services —  and I think because they see more people getting help then it prompts them to get help as well,” she said.


Kanefsky adds the Food Bank’s drive-thru pantries during the pandemic also helped increase awareness of options available to food insecure families.


At their latest event in Georgetown on Monday, the Food Bank served 610 families, and had budgeted 750 families worth of food. The number of people served each month has been slowly decreasing or remaining consistent.


Kanefsky says there won’t be an abrupt end to the drive-thru pantries.


“While the numbers have decreased for the cars and families that are coming through these events,” Kanefsky said. “There’s still significant enough to know that there’s still a need. So we’re constantly re-evaluating and talking about whether or not we will continue at the same pace.”


Kanefsky says they are currently booked with DelDOT for at least six more months of distributions. After that point, she says the drive-thru pantries might shift to once every three or six months, depending on the needs of the community.


Kanefsky adds workforce development continues to be a major priority for her organization. Giving people the skills to get a job is much better than giving them a box of food every month.


And underneath workforce development is the root cause of why people don’t have enough food.


Joel Berg is the CEO of Hunger Free America, advocating to tackle those roots. He visited Delaware this week as part of his summer tour to visit food banks all across the country.


Berg says conditions are similar across state lines, and even between urban, suburban and rural areas — there are always hungry people wherever you find them.


He adds food deliveries are great, but permanent improvements to living conditions such as increasing the minimum wage, providing more workforce training, and reducing food waste will avoid the need for food banks altogether.


Berg says he’s been advocating on Capitol Hill for a permanent increase to SNAP benefits nationwide. Lawmakers approved a temporary increase in food assistance benefits with a COVID relief package, but those extended benefits expire in the fall.


Sen. Chris Coons says he supports keeping those increases permanent, and adds implementing better logistics in our food systems will reduce food waste.


According to the USDA, over a third of all food produced in the US is thrown away every year, that’s almost $161 billion worth of food.


Coons says eliminating all that waste with better distribution practices means food costs would go down, making it more affordable for everyone.


Roman Battaglia is a corps member withReport for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.