“The virus has changed everything,” says Susan Zumbuehl, a social worker and food bank volunteer in Waco, Texas. “Things that [used to be] easily obtained have become scarce.”
Susan has been a food bank volunteer for the last ten years, working at a site that operates out of a local church in an undisclosed location. “It is for local people who are HIV+,” Susan explains. “Those who are positive are targets for violence. That is why the location is kept secret.”
In addition to food and toiletries, the food bank also offers an important support system for the community, with Susan and her fellow volunteers operating a fund to help beneficiaries pay rent and utility bills. And now that the coronavirus pandemic has caused shutdowns of businesses and forced people to shelter in place, Susan has to work harder to gather supplies that she can donate to the bank.
Donating to food banks during the COVID-19 crisis
Despite the difficulty, Susan remains undeterred. “As soon as the stores started offering special early morning hours for seniors I started looking for items that we needed,” she says. “I’m also looking for things for family, friends, and neighbors.”
Although senior shopping hours are meant to minimize risk for older citizens, Susan still takes extra care to stay safe. “Even in my own house, I've always been weird about germs,” she says, "mainly because the HIV+ population has a fragile immune system. Before I go into a store I pretend that everyone is sick and capable of spreading the coronavirus or the flu. I have doubled the precautions I usually take.”
Whatever Susan is able to buy, she donates to the local food bank, as well as friends and neighbors in need. Since the coronavirus outbreak has also shuttered many restaurants, Susan has been collecting in-kind donations from their pantries as well. From toiletries to canned goods, yogurt to produce, all of it goes toward helping those who have been negatively affected by the pandemic.
Donating to food banks and helping others, however possible
As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, food banks across the country are experiencing unprecedented demand, with many citizens turning to them for help after a recent job loss. “They are so overwhelmed right now,” Susan says. “Call or email your local food bank, especially with donations.”
Thanks to the efforts of Susan and her fellow volunteers, the local food bank in Waco is still running despite the pandemic. “It feels good to be helpful, especially now with so many in need because of the virus,” Susan says.
When she isn’t volunteering, Susan puts her energy into helping in other ways, such as gardening in her backyard and sewing masks for nurses. “Anyone can do what I do!” she says. “We have to get out of bed and look around every day for something to do to help others. If you feel helpless, reach out and help.”
Want to donate to a food bank near you? There are plenty of ways you can get involved. Find food banks in your area to volunteer with and donate to right here on Idealist.org!