By Danielle Prokop, El Paso Matters
El PASO, Texas – One of El Paso’s largest food distribution sites will close and others will cut hours despite increased need for food due to the pandemic, officials said, citing a lack of workforce.
âWe are still able to handle all the logistics, the trucking, finding the food, getting it to El Paso and to the sites. But at the sites, we don’t have the manpower to distribute food to the people in the line, âsaid Susan Goodell, CEO of El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, the region’s only food bank.
Northeast El Paso’s mega pantry at the Nolan Richardson Recreation Center closed last week, Goodell said.
âUnless we secure significant additional manpower or the financial resources to hire staff, the northeast site will be closed permanently,â she said.
âIt will take a lot of hands to replace the National Guard, Get Shift Done and other groups that are no longer part of the food bank,â she said.
Until last week, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger operated four âmega-pantriesâ that provide food for a week to hundreds of thousands of food insecure families. Mega-pantries are open five days a week, at least five hours a day, unlike many small pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters for which the food bank provides food.
Goodell said the food bank has relied on various groups, such as the Texas National Guard, AmeriCorps, and nonprofits such as Team Rubicon, Get Shift Done, and Workforce Solutions Borderplex, as other groups in volunteers have dried up during the pandemic.
These groups provided “hundreds of volunteers” to help the food bank during the pandemic. Now, the Texas National Guard will be pulling out of El Paso next week due to the end of the federal refund,
Goodell said, leaving 70 employees and 15 AmeriCorps, and a much smaller pool of volunteers to distribute food.
âThere is an option for any state to pick up the cost of the National Guard call, but I think it’s highly unlikely in Texas,â Goodell said.
The Texas Military Department did not respond to emailed questions about the Texas National Guard’s withdrawal from El Paso.
âAnytime we lose a major source of support, one of those groups that provides us with the workforce, we put a band-aid on the problem,â Goodell said. âWe are running out of bandages. “
Other changes included reducing hours at food bank sites and transferring site operations.
- El Pasoans Fighting Hunger’s headquarters in Plaza Circle will change hours starting this week and will operate weekdays only from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- El Pasoans Fighting Hunger will no longer operate at the Horizon Boulevard Pantry located at Holy Spirit Church; however, food will be distributed by church members starting Wednesday August 11 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- El Pasoans Fighting Hunger’s western distribution site on Doniphan Road will open an hour and a half later, weekdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
El Pasoans Fighting Hunger is also distributing food to 132 partners in El Paso, Culberson and Hudspeth counties, according to the website. The food bank is relatively young, turning 5 last month, but Goodell said the two years have put unprecedented strain on the food bank.
In 2019, the food bank distributed over 32 million pounds of food. In 2020, that skyrocketed to Â£ 139million distributed as people sought support through job losses, disease and other factors during the pandemic.
âWe are 20% of the workforce that a food bank our size should have,â she said.
She said the food bank was working to close the gap, aiming to recruit 100 volunteers, but that there was a shortage of typical groups that produce volunteers: retirees, school groups and local teams of volunteers. companies.
She said volunteers and cash donations are just a few of the ways El Pasoans can help.
âWe need people to advocate for continued government support, not only in this food bank, but in every food bank across the country,â she said. “The best way for people to do this is to talk to their national, state and local officials.”
Beyond large distributors, small pantries fear that a lack of volunteers and larger demands will stretch them even further.
Sara Molina, director of the pantry at the Kelly Center for Hunger Relief, is a small pantry that receives all of its food through El Pasoans Fighting Hunger, said they have been struggling to find volunteers since July last.
âWe always need volunteers, always,â Molina said.
Molina said she didn’t know how far demand could move to their site. She said demand remains double compared to before the pandemic.
âOur busiest day would be at the start of the month; we would see 360 ââfamilies. After the pandemic, we were seeing around 1,000 families a day, âMolina said. âNow we see between 500 and 600 families from Tuesday to Saturday. “
Molina said her site will continue to operate from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
Eddie Lopez, 59, is a retired teacher and volunteered at various distribution centers during the pandemic. He started at the Kelly Center for Hunger Relief about eight months ago, saying he had to get out of the house.
âYou really feel like you get involved in the community,â Lopez said. âIt’s really important that everyone give back a little bit because we have a lot to be thankful for. “
Goodell said she does not foresee a decrease in food needs in the region for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t see the numbers dropping too much in the next couple of years, I think there is a long payback for people who have lost their jobs, they are going to need bags of food until they can. get back on her feet, “she said.