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Food Bank Worker, Volunteer, and Client Safety During COVID-19

Case Study Last Reviewed: July 6, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many food banks have experienced personnel shortages because their volunteer bases are comprised largely of individuals over the age of 60, a group that has been identified as more vulnerable to COVID-19. Food banks can prepackage food items and hold drive-thru distributions to help workers, volunteers, and clients adhere to social distancing guidelines and stay safe.

The following is a list of key findings and considerations for jurisdictions and communities regarding ongoing COVID-19 pandemic operations across the country. These are best practices for consideration and do not constitute and should not be considered as guidance in any way.

This document contains references and links to non-federal resources and organizations. This information is meant solely for informational purposes and is not intended to be an endorsement of any non-federal entity by FEMA, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or the U.S. government.

Potential Best Practices

  • Food banks have adjusted types of food packing and methods of distribution to adhere to social distancing guidelines, for example: 
    • The Capital Area Food Bank has switched to providing pre-bagged or boxed shelf-stable items. The food bank has doubled the usual quantity of food that it distributes to reduce client trips to program locations.
    • Member food banks of Feeding America have added mobile or drive-through distributions, scheduled appointments, and suggested that only one member of a family should visit distribution points.
    • At a drive-through distribution point in Pittsburgh, people have been asked to remain in their cars and unlock their trunks or backseat doors so that volunteers can place food in the car.
    • Workers who are distributing food in the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado are divided into teams who serve on separate shifts so that the workers only interact with people on their shift. Additionally, workers receive daily temperature checks and participate in video check-ins with a nurse every morning.
    • Guidance from the California Association of Food Banks recommends considering an appointment system in which individuals wait in their cars for a text message to alert them when it is their turn to pick up food, instead of standing in line.
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