Hays County food banks and pantries are modifying how they’re aiding the community in order for clients and volunteers to remain safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since mid-March, various food banks and distributors in Hays County, such as the Hays County Food Bank, Bobcat Bounty, and the Info Desk at the LBJ Student Center, adjusted how they hand out food to keep both volunteers and clients safe as the demand rises during the pandemic.
The Hays County Food Bank, founded in 1984, serves low-income households and those with food emergencies across the county with the majority of clients coming from San Marcos and Kyle. The food bank usually serves 2,555 individuals through various partnering agencies in Hays County.
Before the pandemic, clients, directed by volunteers, were able to stand in line at the food distribution area. Clients could either bring their own bags and choose food that they needed or get their food pre-bagged by volunteers.
Hays County Food Bank volunteers must wash their hands before taking items out for distribution and additionally afterward. Items are prebagged and distributed through a drive-thru system.
Volunteers are still needed, although there is now a limit on how much the bank can accept in order to stay in compliance with social distancing during distribution. To ensure the safety of others, potential volunteers must fill out a prescreening, 10-minute questionnaire.
The bank is still allowing food and financial donations. Food donation drop-offs can be placed in a green bind by the warehouse, which is checked daily. Those interested in donating can also call the food bank to make arrangements. Items needed most are canned fruits and vegetables, as well as canned goods high in protein.
Communication Coordinator for the Hays County Food Bank Mallory Best said there has been a decrease in donations in March compared to the average of 16,000 pounds of food received each week. While there were abnormal amounts of food donated during the month, Best said due to the increasing number of clients, the amount of food is still needed.
“Even with the abnormal donation in March, we’ve seen a significant increase of clients in need. Therefore, we do need more food because we are having a 400% increase just in new clients,” Best said.
Bobcat Bounty, a student-run campus food pantry at Texas State, is also trying to keep up with the demand all while keeping both volunteers and clients safe.
Volunteers are required to wash their hands immediately before bagging food and wear gloves and masks. Items will be prebagged and there will be a limit of two people within the bagging area. All surfaces are sanitized. Distribution of items will be outside at the Family and Consumer Science’s courtyard.
Two distributions will take place on Thursdays with one from 12 p.m.-2 p.m. and another from 5-7 p.m. Recipients of food must sign up in advance online or email Bobcat Bounty directly.
According to Kelsey Walling, Bobcat Bounty graduate assistant, the demand for food has increased and the clientele has changed, including to now residents in Hays County.
“We aren’t seeing the increase of our client base right now. However, a lot of our regular clients usually come to the pantry have gone home over the duration of the break, so our client base has definitely changed … however, we’re getting a lot more clients who are in need during this time who do reside in Hays County,” Walling said.
The Information Desk, working with Bobcat Bounty, is continuing to hand out Emergency Food Bags. Bags from Bobcat Bounty come prebagged to the desk in the beginning of each week.
In compliance with CDC guidelines, one worker is stationed at the desk and must hand sanitize and clean surface areas every 30 minutes. A line of tape is placed six feet away for people to wait for assistance. Hours are cut down 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Texas State students, faculty and staff can apply for aid through requesting a form at the desk to fill out.
Josue Blanco Ventura, student manager at the Information Desk, said he has seen an increase of students getting bags and applying for aid.
“(The Information Desk) have noticed an increase for this past two to two and half weeks after the coronavirus hit of more people coming in or applying for aid,” Ventura said.
Currently, food banks are in high demand for donations and volunteers in Hays County and across the nation. The Hays County Food Banks will be posting updates of their distribution schedule and hours on their website and Facebook. They are currently accepting volunteers and donations on their website as well.
Application for volunteer work in Bobcat Bounty is still open. In order to apply, email [email protected]