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Harry Chapin Food Bank prioritizes mobile pantries during coronavirus pandemic

Employees at Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida are preparing mobile units to serve even more people during this time of need, but it will be done a little differently.

We learned how the food bank is working to support the community and keep its volunteers healthy too Monday, as the nonprofit shifts its operations in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at the local level.

“What we’re going to do is shift to a drive-through model, where we will take kits, boxes or bags full of food,” said Richard LeBer, the president and CEO of Harry Chapin Food Bank.

This will be done to help limit large crowds and the spread of the coronavirus.

“We’re working as we normally have,” LeBer said. “We still have agencies open. We still have mobile pantries. We still have normal food in the warehouse that we’re distributing.”

The food bank feeds about 28,000 people every week through programs such its mobile pantries. But, as more and more places limit hours, shut down and people stay indoors, the food bank fears even more people won’t know where their next meal will come from.

“Schools have already shut down. Kids are home,” LeBer said. “We may see additional people need help because perhaps the business they are working in has laid them off or cut back their hours.”

So the food bank is making extra bags in case they’re needed. In fact, the food bank has bagged up more than 1,000 kits since Friday.

“We’ve been able to do something different than we’re normally doing in our day to day,” said Keri Lefort, the director of programs at Harry Chapin Food Bank. “But we’re only doing it because of the need, because these bags need to be packed, so we can start distributing them as soon as possible.”

Currently, the mobile pantries will continue on as normal.

The food bank is working to find more locations to make its mobile panties more like drive-throughs.

The next mobile pantry is scheduled for East Napes Community Park at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Each food kit Harry Chapin bags hold about 20 pounds of food. That provides food for five days for a family of four. The cost to make each kit is about $30. Harry CHapin plans to distribute, on average, about 1,000 kits daily.

But that will cost $150,000, and the food pantry needs community support. Anyone interested in making a donation can go to the Harry Chapin Food Bank website.

Lefort says, amid the new response to support those experiencing food insecurity in Southwest Florida, the more hands they have helping the cause, the better.

“We are in desperate need of additional volunteers that are healthy that are able to come out and help us pack these bags, so our staff can get back to our normal jobs,” Lefort said.

MORE: Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida

Reporter:Andryanna Sheppard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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