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Lowcountry Food Bank serves 32,000 more pounds of food than normal amid coronavirus spread

With increasingly more people in need of food assistance, the Lowcountry Food Bank is modifying its outreach approach and increasing distribution amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s unchartered waters for us," said Brenda Shaw, chief development officer of the organization.

The food bank remains fully operational as it implements safety precautions, increases distribution and collaborates with local agencies to meet the growing demands, officials said.

The nonprofit, which typically distributes 100,000 pounds of food weekly to partner agencies, handed out 132,000 pounds last week, Shaw said.

The North Charleston-based food bank is also seeing an uptick in the number of walk-ins.

"Anecdotally, we see about 120 people per month," she said. "We saw more than 120 last week alone.”

Other organizations are feeling the pinch.

The Community Resource Center, which offers fruits and vegetables at its two locations between Summerville and North Charleston, saw 125 walk-ins in North Charleston last week, said Executive Director Louis Smith.

The nonprofit, which gets its produce from Lowcountry Food Bank, expects that number to double this week.

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Chineka Carter hands school lunches to a family waiting in line at Stall High School on Friday, March 20, 2020, in North Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

With the organization running low on canned food and hygiene kits, the center is hosting a food drive 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at 116 West 2nd North St. in Summerville.

Responding to the pandemic differs from natural disasters, which are more localized, Shaw said. The virus' impact spreads across the organization's 10-county coverage area, forcing school and business closures, and leaving grocery stores with empty shelves.

So far, the organization's approach has been aiding its partners to ensure they have enough supply. About 18 agencies of the food bank's 300 partners have seen coronavirus-related closures, Shaw said. The food bank hasn't opened any new distribution centers yet but has been providing food for schools, churches and other groups to meet increased demands. 

Last week, the nonprofit partnered with schools and churches to serve communities in Moncks Corner, Goose Creek and North Charleston.

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A top concern is the many low-income communities, such as those in North Charleston, that fall within a federally designated food desert because of the lack a nearby grocery store.

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Lunches are prepared for families to pick up at Stall High School on Friday, March 20, 2020, in North Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

"We’re trying to identify where the gaps are and get foods into those ares," Shaw said.

The nonprofit has modified its operations. Some staff members have opted to work remotely, and there aren't as many truck drivers available to ship the produce, Shaw said.

The nonprofit is partnering with other groups, such as Limehouse Produce, which recently used one of the company's vehicles to pick up a truckload of milk for the food bank.

“We’re trying to get creative," Shaw said.

Amid the spread of the disease, the food bank has taken several safety precautions. Volunteers handing out food wear masks and gloves. Guests remain in their car when they pick up food at drive-thru locations.

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A woman waves to Ann Lawrence after picking up food at Stall High School on Friday, March 20, 2020, in North Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Volunteer groups are limited to 10 people, per federal recommendations on crowd gathering. There is no evidence of transmission of COVID-19 being associated with food and water, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Many Lowcountry residents are anxious to help those in need.

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Connor Seng, University School of the Lowcountry student, helps pass out books and toys to families waiting to pick up food at Stall High School on Friday, March 20, 2020, in North Charleston. University School of the Lowcountry and Snee Farm swim team put together the donation for the meal pick-up. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Mount Pleasant resident Blanche Sullivan began volunteering at the food bank several months ago. She has helped this past week by food sorting and cleaning the warehouse. 

Amid the current pandemic, she also helps lighten the mood by offering words of encouragement and friendly smiles to volunteers.

"I feel very thankful to be able to help," Sullivan said. "I always enjoy volunteering. But now more than ever, I feel thankful and blessed. I’m not a first responder, but this gives me an opportunity to give back in another way." 

Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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