Six months after businesses shuttered and employers laid off workers in droves because of the coronavirus pandemic, demand at the Galveston County Food Bank is back to normal levels. But the type of client the food bank finds itself serving now has changed, officials said.
“There’s probably better terminology for it, but it’s a lot of the working poor,” said Donnie VanAckeren, president and CEO of the food bank. “Those who are only maybe working part-time, not getting to that full-time pay scale yet, those people who are working in retail and struggling and trying to do their best.”
It’s that change in clientele that has Galveston County-area volunteer organizations like the food bank and others keeping an eye on what the rest of the year might hold, even as they begin the slow return to some sense of normalcy.
The Salvation Army of Galveston County, for instance, is seeing more families seeking rent and utility assistance for the first time than ever before, said Holly McDonald, spokeswoman for the charity.
“In the beginning, when the pandemic first hit, there was the stimulus and so people got extra unemployment,” she said. “That’s all run out now, so more people have exhausted their savings and done all they can think of. Now, they’re looking for more resources.”
In March, Congress approved an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program, which helps cover employee salaries, as part of its $2 trillion relief package, the CARES Act, aimed at offsetting economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic, according to The Associated Press.
Organizers with the food bank are planning to start an evening mobile distribution service because many people seeking food work during the day and can’t pick up food during the organization’s regular hours, VanAckeren said. That may partially explain the decline in individuals seeking services.
Before the pandemic, the food bank leaders expected to serve about 23,000 individuals each month, according to Rita Boyer, a grant writer for the organization. In April, that number shot up to about 28,000 but has gradually declined back to about 23,000 people each month.
Despite the decrease in individuals, the food bank continues to give out more food than before the pandemic began, VanAckeren said.
For instance, in August 2019, volunteers gave out about 600,000 pounds of food, compared to 800,000 this August, he said.
“I’m very anxious to see what will happen in the fall,” Boyer said. “Just because the stimulus package happened early on, those unemployment benefits have decreased and other benefits are about to run out.”
In Galveston County, almost 5,000 people had filed for unemployment benefits as of May 27, according to the most recent data provided to The Daily News by the Texas Workforce Commission.
The Galveston County Food Bank has been lucky thus far with the outpouring of donations and interest, VanAckeren said. But the group could always use extra volunteers.
The Salvation Army has had enough money in its reserve funds to cover rental assistance and similar programs but will need more donations to help cover operating costs moving forward, McDonald said.