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Coronavirus In Minnesota: Food Shelves Prepping For Steep Demand, Drop In Volunteers

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- As the push for food continues to grow during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, those who need it most may have a hard time getting it.

Local food shelves are working hard to keep their doors open as many are working to stock their pantries. But some leaders WCCO spoke with Saturday say they're concerned about donations and supply levels as they anticipate the demand for food assistance to go up.

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Images of empty store shelves have been popular recently in the media, but that is not the case at the Westonka Food Shelf in Mound. Director Michelle Bottenfield says they got a 3,000-pound donation from local students Friday, but there is a little bit of uncertainty of how things will continue there.

"Our mission is serving hope, love and food," Bottenfield said. " I think people are nervous, and that has increased the demand, but we are always busy on Saturdays."

She says she's preparing for possible supply shortages after already seeing changes from the food rescue pickups her team does at area grocery stores.

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"We pick up six days a week and we've already noticed a decrease in the amount of food rescue we've been able to bring in," Bottenfield said.

Nancy Brady, president of Neighborhood House in St. Paul, says it has been busy there, too.

"We're actually anticipating increased demands as the economy changes, and people who are hourly workers have their hours reduced or might be laid off," Brady said. "We're anticipating that people are going to come here more often."

Brady says as demand increases, she is expecting her supply from March food drives and regular donations to go down. She also relies on many retired volunteers who are choosing to stay home.

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"We can't do our work without volunteers, so we're scrambling to make sure that we have sufficient manpower," Brady said.

It is encouraging to see the 3,000 pounds of food and $3,000 donated by Westonka Public Schools this week, but food shelves ask that as people stock their shelves, they remember they are trying to stock theirs.

"I want to make sure we're here for our participants," Brady said.

"We're still going to be here as long as we can be," Bottenfield said.

The Westonka Food Shelf has an emergency plan in place to have pre-packaged bags of food ready for curbside pickup if they need to limit person-to-person contact.

Click here for a list of Minnesota food shelves and pantries.

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