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Sonoma County food banks ramp up to meet residents' needs during pandemic

The Redwood Empire Food Bank, the largest in the North Bay, serves an estimated 82,000 people in a typical year, some who drop by for groceries only once and others who are regular clients. This year, because of the coronavirus, CEO David Goodman said he is mentally preparing for double that “for no other reason than we’re expecting that the tsunami’s about to hit.”

“We are in dire need of food and funds and people’s time,” Goodman said Friday in an interview. “We call that a complete serving. It’s not one or the other - we need all of it.”

Already this week, Goodman said, Redwood Empire Food Bank has distributed 400 emergency food boxes. That’s four times what the food bank gives out in a typical month.

“We need a tremendous amount of support,” he said. “We know that everybody’s hurting and that everybody’s running scared.”

The coronavirus pandemic has paralyzed major parts of normal life, and many businesses - including F.I.S.H., a Santa Rosa food pantry - are suspending or severely curtailing normal operations. That affects thousands of workers in Sonoma County who are bracing for missed paychecks that fund their consumption of essential goods and services, with groceries at the top of the list.

The food bank is looking for “center-of-plate” foods primarily but will take whatever it can get, Goodman said. The food bank’s website lists canned meat and stews, peanut butter, rice and beans, high protein granola bars and trail mix among the items of highest need.

“We need everything, but if we had to choose, we need the main course,” he said.

People can get involved with the food bank, whether to pick up or donate food or to volunteer their time and money at refb.org or 707-523-7903. The food bank’s website includes an updating list of pickup sites where people in need can go to pick up boxes of food across Sonoma County.

One of those spots Friday was the Lighthouse Church on Middle Rincon Road in Santa Rosa, where cars lined up nearly 20 deep at one point in the early afternoon.

One 72-year-old woman who lives at a nearby mobile home park and declined to give her name said she’s a regular client of food bank sites and has never seen one as busy as Friday’s. For seniors, even those like her with no underlying health conditions, the availability of meat, produce and dry goods during the national emergency is critical.

“It is an enormous help,” she said while inching forward in Friday’s line of vehicles.

Volunteers in Lighthouse’s parking lot scurried back and forth between stacks of food and the procession of vehicles, which cruised through with open windows and open trunks. Social distancing was difficult at times to maintain, though the volunteers wore varying degrees of protective equipment, especially gloves.

Goodman, the food bank CEO, noted that people “still have to come forward and help” during the pandemic and said his team was doing the best they could when it came to safe hygiene and social distancing.

“This is not a perfect process,” he said. “It can’t be. It’s a disaster.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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