Nov 26, 2020 - Health

Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wearing winter coats and face masks stand in a line outside

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.

  • Older volunteers, at high risk from the virus, are staying home. A food bank in Idaho Falls fed up to 200 hungry people a day pre-pandemic, but closed completely this month because of lack of volunteers, Reuters reports.
  • 60% of food banks with Feeding America — the largest such network in the country — reported they could use more volunteers.
  • Over 50 million people in the U.S., including 17 million children, could become food insecure this year due to the pandemic, per a Feeding America analysis.

What they're saying: “We are in desperate need of volunteers ... in the soup kitchen especially,” Salvation Army volunteer Erin Rischawy told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

  • “With shelters being on the high-risk list to contract and spread COVID, we had to make the difficult decision to still celebrate but not do it as we normally do,” Tara Davis, executive director of Friendship Mission, told the Montgomery Advertiser.

The other side: Some charities are purposefully going without their usual number of volunteers, or asking people to stay home due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

  • Miriam's Kitchen, a D.C. nonprofit, is working with only eight volunteers per shift in outdoor tents to deliver meals to the city's homeless population.

Go deeper: In photos: Americans wait at food banks before Thanksgiving

Go deeper