All Faiths Food Bank is organizing two mass food distributions in Sarasota County this month to help residents impacted by COVID-19. The events will take place in the parking lots at CoolToday Park (18800 South, W Villages Pkwy, Venice) on May 9 and Ed Smith Stadium (2700 12th St., Sarasota) on May 16. Both distributions – which are first come, first-served – will begin at 9 am and continue until food runs out or 2 pm The National Guard will provide on-site assistance with the massive effort.
The event is planned for people who are recently unemployed or impacted by COVID-19. Florida led the nation in unemployment claims last week, with over 180,000; more than 900,000 jobless Floridians have submitted claims since mid-March. All Faiths expects to serve as many as 4,600 community members at each location.
"We want area families struggling with the loss of jobs, or whose businesses that have been forced to close due to the pandemic, to know that we are here for them," said Food Bank CEO Sandra Frank. "For many in our community, hunger is something that happens to ‘other people.’ But now, with the current state of the economy, we all know someone who has lost their job, or been forced to shutter their business, and is facing financial challenges."
The Food Bank has taken special measures to remove barriers to assistance: there will be no registration or approval process, and no collection of information on-site. Social distancing and no-touch strategies will be observed – food will be distributed via drive-thru and placed directly into the trunks of cars. Attendees will also receive information about additional Food Bank locations where groceries are available.
News stories continue to highlight the desperate plight of farmers forced to destroy fields of crops and local dairy farmers dumping milk down drains because demand has dried up while, simultaneously, an unprecedented number of families can’t afford enough food. The Food Bank has purchased nearly 10,000 gallons of milk from Dakin Dairy Farms and produce from local Florida farmers, obtained with support from Feeding Florida (the Florida food bank association). These foodstuffs will be distributed at the May events.
“We’re doing everything we can to assist local farms while providing food for area residents and families negatively impacted by COVID-19,” Frank said. “Last month, the Food Bank increased produce distribution by 78% – we are pleased to have access to these healthy foods, thanks to Feeding Florida.”
The stadiums have donated the use of their facilities for the food distributions. “We are grateful to the management of the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles for donating the use of their spring training locations,” said Frank. “These venues offer the sheer size and infrastructure necessary for such a large effort. We are grateful they are providing such vital assistance to help community members who are struggling.”
The coronavirus has caused an unprecedented spike in need for food assistance. In the first 30 days of the crisis, the Food Bank saw a 100% increase in food distribution and a 40% increase in new clients at mobile pantry distributions. Simultaneously, costs have skyrocketed due to the loss of consumer food donations, the loss of its significant volunteer force under the stay-at-home order, and changes to food distribution, including a need for individual packaging and the move to a drive-thru/no touch model.