MOULTRIE, Ga. -- The Colquitt County Food Bank has faced some hard times since the pandemic started back in March. They need all the help they can get, but that’s dangerous given the circumstances.

Dr. Laura Keith, executive director of the food bank, said their daily serving numbers have increased recently. People don’t have much money right now and food is at the top of the list.

“(It’s a choice between) food and rent, and food is really more important than rent because you’ve got to be able to eat,” Keith said. “Since the stimulus ran out, we have seen an uptake.”

The federal stimulus — a bonus to unemployment checks — ran out in August. Keith said the food bank is close to reaching the numbers it faced feeding in March but isn’t quite there yet.

When the Observer reported on the food bank in April, Keith reported 15-20 people an hour were served during its hours of operation, 9-11 a.m. 

As of Oct. 6, she reports that it’s servicing 30-50 people a day during those same hours. 

With a routine down, she said the food bank is better equipped to handle those numbers. At the same time, there are more issues than before.

The food bank wasn’t working at full capacity back in April, but volunteers from all over were still allowed to help. Now, help is down to necessity -- the essential workers or rather the “skeleton crew” as Keith calls them.

But, it’s at the bare minimum because it has to be. She’d hate to put anybody else at risk of COVID-19 right now, she said; they’re trying to hang on until the pandemic eases up.

“We just have a really small core of regular volunteers that come in every day,” Keith said. “Everybody plays a critical role -- they’ve all got their jobs. If something happens to one of our workers, we’re kind of in trouble.”

Of course, the food bank is following all CDC precautions. Still, the realization is that beyond serving an increased number, there are also those who can’t get to the food bank.

The desperate need for and access to food is a great one across Colquitt, especially given the circumstances, but recently Keith has seen that increase for the elderly population.

“It’s hard for them to get out, it’s hard for them to get a ride or to get somebody to come up here and pick the food up for them,” she said.

They are a part of the population at the highest risk for the disease. In a perfect world, a volunteer could use their own vehicle or the food bank’s van to deliver these meals. 

That’s still a difficult ask during the pandemic.

“It just depends. If we have a real surge in numbers, and it really shuts down things even more then we probably will have to figure out some way to get orders to some of these shut-ins,” Keith said.

The food bank isn’t looking at dire straits now, but that’s what the situation could turn to in time. Donations are down more than they ever have been since the food bank skipped a couple of food drives.

The second Saturday in May is the Letter Carrier Food Drive, the biggest food drive of the spring. That was canceled because of COVID-19.

“That’s 12-15,000 pounds of food that we didn’t get this year,” Keith said. “And nothing has really replaced that. That gets us through to Christmas.”

Even during the holiday season, there are food drives, but with the ongoing pandemic, who knows what’s going to happen this year.

That being said, Keith is asking the community to donate funds either at its website, http://colquittfoodbank.org; its location, 309 Third Street S.E.; or to its mailing address, P.O. Box 1402, Moultrie, Georgia 31776.

With this money, Keith can purchase food from Second Harvest of South Georgia, a food bank in Valdosta. Purchasing food products from them can be anywhere from 2 to 19 cents a pound.

The Moultrie Lions Club also helped out by allowing the food bank to help distribute pallets of produce boxes the club had received through the Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families program.

Still, Keith said, if the food bank only relied upon food donations, they would’ve been closed up. The hope is that it and Colquitt County itself be in a better place soon.

“We’re just hoping that the numbers will go down, people will respect this virus, do the distancing, wear their masks, they’ll get a stimulus package passed and they’ll get a little bit more money in their accounts to buy food to survive,” Keith said.

In the meantime, people can still apply at the food bank for a distribution, which is based on family size and will last for five days.

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