The Great Plains Food Bank did a survey with its partner agencies at the end of March, and the results weren’t surprising, at least not during a pandemic.

“It reported a 30 to 60 percent increase (in demand) at food pantries,” said Melissa Sobolik, president of Great Plains Food Bank. “With our mobile food pantries, we’ve seen a 50 percent increase. The numbers are jumping up, because there are more and more people in need.”

The food bank received a call from Gov. Doug Burgum early on, asking for assistance with getting meals to reservations, particularly for elders who likely aren’t leaving their homes.

“We were able to go down to Standing Rock and Spirit Lake with truckloads of food,” Sobolik said. “We delivered 40,000 pounds of food within hours on the reservations.”

At a time when many need assistance from the food bank more than ever, it’s also in drastic need of donations. Sobolik said grocery store donations are disappearing as consumers are buying up most of the inventory, and people are cautious to donate food of their own in fear of being without in a quarantine situation.

“It’s going out as quickly as we get it in,” Sobolik said. “As soon as this hit in mid-March, our donations took a deep dive. Food donors and retailers didn’t have it to donate because of frantic buying and almost hoarding, which meant less to donate.”

To keep hungry people fed, the Great Plains Food Bank has resorted to buying truckloads of food for distribution, a model Sobolik said isn’t sustainable for very long.

“Right now, it costs us between $25,000 and $35,000 for a truckload of product,” she said. “That goes out within hours. Every food bank across the nation is trying to buy product. You couldn’t envision this.”

To add to its problems, the food bank is low on volunteers because of social distancing. Sobolik said if volunteers want to help, they’ve organized a process to ensure safety.

At this point, Sobolik said the food bank will take whatever help it can get, whether it’s food, funds or volunteers.

“We have an increased need for volunteers as we pre-pack boxes for food pantries,” she said. “As food donations have declined, we could use food drives and donations of shelf-stable product. And funds are needed to help us purchase truckloads of food and increase the number of distributions across the state.”

Visit greatplainsfoodbank.org to learn how you can contribute, including an option to host a virtual food drive.

— NDFU Editor Chris Aarhus