LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Prior to the pandemic, Food Finders Food Bank said they had about 9,000 volunteers per year.
But as soon as the pandemic hit Indiana, "we lost all of our volunteers," Food Finders Food Bank CEO Kier Crites said.
"We rely on the Purdue community and senior citizens as the bulk of our base," said Crites. And with school shut down and the elderly considered to be at higher risk of complications, Crites said the pantry faced a dilemma.
"Luckily the national guard was deployed to us," Crites said.
The service members have been helping the food bank keep up with the increasing demand in a state that already struggled with high food insecurity prior to the pandemic.
With the assistance of the National Guard, Crites said they were able to move their service to a drive thru style at a nearby school.
But fall is fast approaching and "schools are getting ready to re-open so they need their parking lot back," Crites said.
Food Finders said it's also unclear when the National Guard will be recalled and Indiana food banks will no longer be able to rely on their assistance with distributing food.
"Their (the National Guard) last day was supposed to be July 31st so we knew we were going to have to start bringing volunteers this week. So we’re trying to phase in volunteers little by little with what little information we have ," Crites said.
This week marks the first time the food pantry is reopening at its home base in five months. As of right now, the food bank is slowly phasing in volunteers to fill just one shift a day.
"They're required to hand sanitize, wear a mask, do a temperature screening, wear a mask on their own," Crites said.
She said the National Guard will still be handling the interactions with clients.
"We’re looking for volunteers to help us with interior projects like repackaging food, sorting meat," said Crites.
Since March, she said there's been an increase in demand from the 300 to 400 people they served a day prior to the pandemic. Thirty percent of their clients have never had to ask for assistance prior to the pandemic, according to Crites. The food bank expects that number to increase.
"Unemployment benefits ran out on Friday so we’re watching and preparing for what we think is going to be a long term recession," Crites said.
Which means more helping hands will be needed to help take care of fellow Hoosiers.