Central California Food Bank relying on volunteers during pandemic

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Since March, the Central California Food Bank says it has served close to five million meals to Valley families.

COVID-19 has led to a huge spike in families needing assistance. Among those answering the call to help feed the needy are members of Americorps Listos California.

They're making meal boxes and then filling them with food at the Central California Food Bank. They put out about a thousand boxes a week.

"I've just been thankful I've had this opportunity to come out and serve. I know people have lost the ability to work or go to their jobs so I'm just very thankful I can come out and do this and be of service in that capacity," said Jordan Jensen with Americorps.

Jensen signed up for Americorps to assist struggling families going through difficult times.

Americorps Listos is part of the Fresno Center non-profit agency. When Governor Newsom issued a call for volunteers through California For All, ten Americorps staffers were re-deployed from their original duties.

"Normally this time of year the Americorps volunteers would be gearing up for fire safety and be deploying to a community in need, stricken by fire," said program supervisor Cheri Cruz.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been unable to work, so more are relying on food distribution services.

The food bank has seen a 50% increase in the number of families needing assistance. CAO Kym Dildine says 45% of them are seeking help for the very first time.

A few months ago, she worried about having enough volunteers to take care of all the families.

"The community has really stepped up because we were quite fearful we wouldn't be able to get the food out," Dildine said.

"We're super grateful community partners like Americorps. They come on a regular basis so we don't have to re-train them every single day."

The food bank remains in need of volunteers, especially since social distancing limits the number of people they can have inside the warehouse. Soon the Americorps staff may need to go back and serve families in areas impacted by wildfire.

That could happen in a matter of weeks. The Food Bank has benefitted from so many groups during the pandemic - from Bitwise to groups of young people just wanting to help.
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