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OC Food Bank Ensures Aid During Desperate Times

COVID-19 has caused the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, which provides food to more than 250,000 people in Orange County monthly, to make drastic changes to their operations.

Second Harvest CEO Harald Herrmann said that the food bank had begun to prepare for the pandemic well in advance of any executive quarantine declarations in an interview with the LA Times

“Our team at Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County has been laser focused and strategically planning for the anticipated spread of coronavirus/COVID-19 since late February,” Herrmann said on the organization’s website. During this time, the food bank started purchasing truckloads of shelf-stable foods in order to brace for the pandemic’s potential impact. 

An anticipated depletion in the organization’s largest and most reliable food source —“grocery rescue” items that are safe to eat despite having reached their sell-by date — has fueled such action. 

In order to adapt to the newly imposed limits of the stay-at-home order and meet their food demand, Second Harvest had to decrease the purchase of perishable foods, replacing them with more pantry items that are much slower to expire.

“We have a five-week supply of food. We absolutely have the inventory, we have the distribution methodology to be able to feed Orange County during the crisis,” Herrmann said to the LA Times.

Another prominent issue for the organization is enacting efficient methods of distribution in accordance with Orange County’s shutdown. 

Second Harvest’s volunteers made up 42% of its workforce. However, pandemic quarantine measures have significantly reduced this number. 

“We have made the difficult decision to suspend our Distribution Center volunteer operation,” Herrmann said.

In response to the problem, the food bank recruited 120 temporary workers — some of whom have been laid off from their former jobs — to pack thousands of bags and boxes with food for individuals and families in need. Workers make $15 an hour and receive a box of food for themselves and their family. 

The food bank established the Harvest Truck Brigade, which is a volunteer fleet of 200 pickup truck drivers who deliver food directly to people, to aid in food distribution. Upon receiving a call or text from an individual in need, food can be boxed and delivered to that person within 24 to 48 hours

Second Harvest also established a weekly drive-through pick up service at the Honda Center in Anaheim, allowing the organization to provide 500 to 1,000 families with a one-week supply of bagged food while upholding the requirement of social distancing. Distribution is held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. 

COVID-19 has been especially taxing for seniors who have had to secure food and supplies for themselves while simultaneously avoiding contact with others. According to Herrmann, the food bank has put a measure in place where “a Second Harvest truck will deliver boxes that can be distributed door to door to seniors quarantined in their living quarters” in order to accommodate senior needs. 

These numerous adjustments come with a steep price. An additional $340,000 per week is required to meet the organization’s demand. 

According to its website, the food bank has been “actively fundraising to facilitate the procurement of 37 trucks or 1.1 million pounds of shelf-stable foods.”

Herrmann states that funding is critical to allow the food bank to retain its employees. 

Nonprofit organizations like Orange County United Way and Charitable Ventures are creating pandemic relief funds. Both are accepting monetary donations to aid community-based organizations. Their “OC Community Resilience Fund” has received just under $3 million.

“There is no manual … there’s no advisor,” Herrmann said to the LA Times. “This is basically, ‘Figure it out as you go, learn as much as you can as quickly as you can … and keep moving.’” 

Alessandra Arif is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at aearif@uci.edu.