Closures and other pandemic factors have cost about an eighth of working adults their job. More people need help, while businesses that might otherwise donate are closed.
While grocery stores endure chronically empty shelves, supply chain disruptions continue to take a bite out of local food rescue nonprofits.
Pantries and meal services often obtain their supplies through food or cash donations, but in recent years food rescue has been a major source. Rescue organizations make arrangements with local restaurants, stores, and distribution centers for produce that is still fit to eat, but might otherwise not last on shelves.
The amount of food available for rescue has become less predictable, though, even as more and more people find that they need help keeping their fridge full.
Nancy Jamison is the executive director of Fair Foods, which is based in Dorchester and collects food from restaurants. Jamison said that she’s lost several volunteers just as demand for food is spiking.
“Of course tension is rising,” Jamison said.
Lovin’ Spoonfuls, another food rescue organization that helps supply local food pantries, estimates that due to the pandemic, demand for food in the state had jumped 400% by the end of April.
In a blog post, Lovin’ Spoonfuls Executive Director Ashley Stanley noted, “1 out of every 3 calls is now from an individual, looking for food.”
The unemployment rate in Massachusetts spiked to 15.1% in April from 2.8% the previous month, according to the US Department of Labor Statistics. Extended closures and other pandemic factors have cost about an eighth of all working adults in the state their job. More people need help with food, while businesses that might otherwise donate are closed.
Food For Free is a large organization and the primary food collection group for local Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods stores. They also pick up from Amazon Fresh, which Lee said has a larger variety of organizations it works with. Across the board, there has been a lot of fluctuation in the food supply since the pandemic hit.
“It’s certainly different. It’s gone up and down,” Food For Free Director of Operations Ryan Lee said. “When the crisis first hit, for the first few weeks the grocery stores were running out of items and the amount of food that was available from grocery stores dipped. It’s a little less predictable than it used to be.”
While there are more hungry mouths, there are also more food rescue organizations running up against each other as they compete for a diminishing supply.
“The big thing is that demand is way up and there are a lot more organizations out there looking for more food,” Lee said. “It is a challenge.”
Donald Collins operates Z19 Trucking, which collects perishable goods primarily from Amazon Fresh through the company’s Everett and Boston facilities.
Collins recently experienced the increase in tension when he was angrily confronted in Everett by an employee of a rival nonprofit. Collins said the man boasted that he was responsible for Z19 losing his deal to pick up produce from Amazon in Boston.
“He kept screaming at me that he was going to call 911,” Collins said. “He blocked my truck in with his truck. I asked him if I could give him my card and that my scheduled pick ups at Amazon was Thursday through Sunday. He said, You take that card and stick it in your ass! You’re stealing from Veterans. I’m calling the police.”
A spokesperson from the organization that confronted Collins failed to respond to repeated emails and voicemails requesting comment.
Although Lee said that his organization, Food For Free, has received an outpouring of support, he understands ongoing supply is limited and new realities from the pandemic will likely change how his group and others continue their work.
“Like anything, as time goes on, problems go from being acute to chronic,” Lee said, “We’re doing some planning to adjust for that, knowing that we’re not always going to be able to get a pile of volunteers every day.”