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Bay Area Food Banks Face Unprecedented Demand

Mike Altfest
Alameda County Community Food Bank
A volunteer bags groceries at the Alameda County Community Food Bank.


The loss of jobs during this pandemic has left families struggling to pay for groceries. I contacted a local food bank to see how it’s responding to the crisis. 


Mike Altfest is the Director of Community Engagement and Marketing for the Alameda County Community Food Bank. He said that the food bank used to get about 25 to 30 calls a day on its emergency food line. Now they’re getting about 300 calls. More than half are first-time callers. Seniors account for ⅓ to ⅔ of the calls. 


People have been so desperate that they’ve gone straight to the source. Instead of waiting for food to arrive at local food pantries, some began showing up at the agency’s distribution warehouse on the day Alameda County announced its shelter in place order. 


To respond to this huge demand, the food bank set up a drive-thru pick-up site at the warehouse. I asked Altfest if his agency is seeing the long traffic lines that some cities have. And he said, “No. Luckily, we have a big parking lot.” 


The food bank has also partnered with 10 school districts who are handing out free lunches so families can pick up bags of groceries as well.


Altfest says all of this has resulted in the food bank having to buy more food and hire more staff.

The demand is like nothing he’s seen before. He told me, “Unprecedented really is the only word to describe this.”