Blaine Food Bank adopts social distancing

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To meet social distancing requirements and ensure safety for its customers and volunteers amid the new coronavirus pandemic, the Blaine Food Bank had to get creative.

The food bank bought three big tents and now customers need to pick up food outside its building at 500 C Street instead of inside. This gives customers more space, and volunteers sorting food inside get more space too, said Sally Church, food bank operations manager.

People picking up food are routed through a line designed to keep people eight feet apart, and volunteers direct the line.

“We have three basic areas and we only allow one person at a time at each, so we’re certainly social distancing,” Church said. “We’re offering just about a full array of products: fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, desserts, bread, everything we had before.”

The food bank is also working with as few volunteers as it can to avoid crowding. “Right now to protect everyone, we’re working with a bare minimum crew and the fewer volunteers we can get away with, the better it is for everyone,” she said.

Many people have reached out about volunteering, and Church wanted to express gratitude to all those who did.

“So many people have offered to come volunteer, it’s just been really heartwarming,” she said. “Please extend our sincere thanks to all the people who offered to do whatever it is they can to help us.”

The food bank is currently serving about 430 families a week, but staff anticipates that could rise. If it outgrows the outdoor pick-up, Church has a plan.

“If all else fails, we would offer premade emergency boxes that you could just drive up and get,” she said.

That’s a model the Bellingham Food Bank already adopted. The Bellingham Food Bank suspended food distribution temporarily on March 18 because people were congregating in line and food bank staff couldn’t ensure that customers and volunteers followed social distancing guidelines, according to a press release. It started up again on March 24, distributing pre-packed boxes at several sites around Bellingham.

The Bellingham Food Bank acts as a hub and distributor to the rest of the food banks in Whatcom County.

The Blaine Food Bank is reaching out to older people and those with health conditions who are unable to come to the food bank or get someone to pick up food for them. “Get us names and addresses and we’ll reach out to them,” Church said.

The Blaine Food Bank is currently open from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays and Fridays, and from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.

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