Food banks nationwide face staffing, supply shortages

Volunteers and donations are needed across the country amid the omicron surge.

Local food banks nationwide are struggling to keep up with demand, due to staffing and food shortages as the omicron COVID-19 surge continues to ravage the country.

"Food banks across the nation provide hope and help to people every day and we all need to stand shoulder to shoulder and work on the hunger problems in our country," said Brett Meredith, the CEO of the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama.

The pandemic has exacerbated the need for assistance, as millions of people continue to face unemployment, food insecurity and poverty, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

The survey found that almost 23 million people either "sometimes" or "often" did not have enough to eat, and 200 million people said their household experienced a loss in employment income in the last month.

Central California Food Bank said they were helping serve 280,000 people before the pandemic and that need has increased up to 350,000 people a month.

In Florida, where the non-profit Boca Helping Hands once served 300 people a day at most at their largest location before the pandemic, they now help feed more than 400.

Though the demand for help remains high, volunteers and staff members are in short supply, with many people out sick or quarantining due to COVID-19.

Boca Helping Hands would typically have 40 volunteers to sufficiently operate per day -- but they've been struggling to get as many as 25 volunteers to come out to help.

"We just encourage other people who are able to assist to the step up," said Boca Helping Hand Executive Director Greg Hazle.

In Missouri, the South Missouri Food Bank has seen a dip in volunteer attendance, showing that some volunteer groups that usually arrive with about 12 to 15 people to give a helping hand are arriving with less than 10.

They've had several staff absences as well and with a small staff, "even one absence has an impact," Lisa Church, the chief advancement officer of the organization, told ABC News.

"[We are] trying to get in temporary employees to help cover some warehouse tasks like pulling orders so that more experienced employees can run routes," Church said. "Even this has been a little difficult."

Some locations say they are also seeing food shortages due to supply-chain disruptions that are driving up prices and leading to a growing shortage of goods in some locations.

Whatever gaps in food and supplies aren't filled by donations are taken from the wallets of the food banks that are struggling to stay afloat, organizations say.

"We're not receiving as much [U.S. Department of Agriculture] food as we used to and so we've had to purchase food as a supplement to our donated food, which is a significant expense in our budget," said Meredith.

Some government programs that helped lighten the load on food banks amid the COVID-19 crisis, including the Farmers to Families Food Box initiative, are no longer operating.

"All COVID funding from state and federal levels has been expended and there is no more funding specific to address the ongoing impacts of COVID," said Robin Allen-Maddox, the marketing & communications manager at the Central California Food Bank.

Food banks are calling out for help, as they focus on getting food to those who need it the most.

"In the athletic world, they have the 'next man up' philosophy. When the stars are down, we need somebody else to step up and that's what we need right now in our in our volunteer community," Hazle said.