GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — It’s a numbers game for Mark Lowry, as his team at the Orange County Food Bank has half a million people to help feed every month.
“Empty spot, empty spot. Normally, you’d expect this to be full,” said Lowry, the director of OC Food Bank at the Community Action Partnership of Orange County, as he walked through an area of the bank that usually stores fresh fruits and produce.
Finding more than 63 million pounds of food is a challenge. That’s how much food the OC Food Bank distributed last year. Lowry says his team is on track to surpass that number this year.
“Leading up to the holiday season, this entire area would be full of food boxes stretching 12 feet high, but you can see we have substantially less food today than we’d normally expect,” said Lowry.
Already strained food banks in the U.S., including this one, have been dealing with increased demand from families impacted by the pandemic. Now, inflation and supply chain issues are making food prices even more expensive and food more difficult to get. So Lowry has to find creative ways to stretch his budget.
“I might be able to buy half a load of tuna, but I might be able to buy three or four truckloads of green beans. So we find that if we buy three or four truckloads of green beans than half a truck of tuna because we, like low-income families, are trying to stretch that dollar and make the most of it because there’s simply not enough to go around,” said Lowry.
This food bank serves and distributes to more than 200 other community partners and food pantries, like nonprofit organization Families Forward in Irvine. Leading this pantry is Amanda Bravo.
“Since the pandemic, we’ve opened it to residents in all of Orange County and we also allow them to come pick up food from our pantry once a week,” said Bravo, operations manager at Families Forward.
Approximately 150 families facing food insecurity depend on Families Forward to eat each week. Last year, the organization provided about 48,000 meals to 13,000 individuals. This was in large part due to important partnerships with two of the major food banks in Orange County.
In recent weeks, if the food bank can’t distribute fresh produce, fruits and other staples, this organization has to turn to its donors and community for help.
“We try to not dip into our funds so we can ensure to help house families, to make sure they have a place to stay, a place to sleep and eat,” said Bravo.
Back at the OC Food Bank, Lowry is working on the budget.
“We’re afraid and every indication is that this will be a longstanding response,” he said.
Despite this, Lowry and his team are determined to keep up with the community’s need and hope donors will follow. The OC Food Bank is located in Garden Grove. It is always looking for volunteers and donors to assist it help families in need. Visit capoc.org for more information.