Food bank holiday story 2021

North Texas Food Bank volunteer Presley Miller, pictured in a file photo

Thanksgiving and Christmas are traditionally popular volunteer days, but amid the 2021 holiday season, North Texas food banks say they face various impediments caused by supply chain constraints, labor market anomalies and increased demand for services.

Some say they cannot recruit or retain a sufficient number of volunteers. This has been an especially difficult undertaking for one of the largest food drives in the Dallas area, the North Texas Food Bank (NTFB), which provided 125 million meals in 2020.

While Cassie Collins, NTFB’s director of volunteer operations, contended that demand has slightly decreased for the nonprofit since then, service levels are still in excess of current staffing.

“In a nutshell, we’re not expecting the same number [of volunteers],” Collins said. “On the days that we get less than a 20% no-show rate, we are excited.”

Gary Henderson, the CEO of United Way of Denton County (UWDC), said his organization has experienced a similar problem.

Henderson also said UWDC is encountering a protein shortage due to the ongoing global supply chain crisis.

“Money is not the problem,” he said. “We have thousands of dollars to buy protein; it’s just not available to our nonprofits at this time.”

Other food banks say supply chain issues have also made it difficult for them to obtain ample product from suppliers, thereby making them rely on donors who buy products on an individual consumer basis.

Gina Harrison, the CEO of NTX Community Food Pantry, said the nonprofit has been unable to make special orders with their supplier as a result of the crisis. This, coupled with rising food prices increasing food insecurity, has led to a greater need for community donations, especially as the NTX Community Food Pantry served roughly the same number of families this Thanksgiving season as the last one.

In preparing for Christmas box dinners, the NTX Community Food Pantry is seeking a slate of shelf-stable food items, including scallop potatoes, canned yams and orange Jello.

Still, in a departure from other food banks, Harrison said her organization has not encountered any issues with volunteer retention.

“I have not had a problem with volunteers. That’s one thing that has been very steady,” Harrison said, attributing such stability to roughly 85% of volunteer staff being comprised of retired community members.

Conversely, NTFB said it has seen relatively minimal impact from the supply chain crisis.

“There are a few specific items (like trail mix that is low in sugar) that go into our Food-4-Kids backpacks that have been hard to find which drives up the cost of those items, but overall, we are not having issues getting food,” said Jeff Smith, senior communications manager for NTFB, in an email.

But while the specific needs of food pantries varies, many of them are using the holiday season to send the same message to community members: give and volunteer.

“We need dollars, and we need time,” Collins said.

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