Food Banks Are Overrun, as Surging Hunger Meets Dwindling Supplies

Based in Las Vegas, Three Square Food Bank previously distributed food through 180 pantries across Clark County. Since the outbreak — and the sudden closing of nearly all of the city’s gambling and tourism attractions — the organization has restructured, with 10 pantries and 21 new drive-through distribution sites.

Larry Scott, Three Square’s chief operating officer, said that the group had expected 200 to 250 cars a day at each drive-through. They’re getting up to 500 to 600 cars instead, with lines up to four miles long. “Every day, we distribute everything that we bring to a site,” Mr. Scott said.

An initial glut of high-quality food from shuttered casinos is basically gone, Mr. Scott said. Now his food bank is burning through an extra $300,000 to $400,000 a week in cash to buy food.

He said that he saw no relief in sight. “What we do today has to be repeated again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day,” Mr. Scott said. “Hungry people are hungry each and every day.”

Ericka Smrcka, an official at Food Bank for the Heartland in Nebraska, went to a recent mobile food distribution at a middle school in neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa. She and a colleague arrived nearly an hour before it was scheduled to start to find the streets jammed in every direction and the police directing traffic.

“We were overwhelmed with tears,” Ms. Smrcka said. “Oh, my gosh. Everywhere we looked, there were just cars.”

The delivery truck had enough boxes of food — produce, bread and milk — for 200 vehicles. Some 400 showed up. Ms. Smrcka recalled feeling apprehensive at the prospect of walking car to car with nothing more than a flier describing alternative resources, thinking she might get yelled at.

But that’s not what happened. “After sitting in their car for an hour and not receiving any food, they still said thank you,” she said, recalling in particular a father who had left work early and picked up his three daughters, and who departed empty-handed.

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