Former NBA star, Oakland native Antonio Davis volunteers at local food pantry

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Volunteers are in short supply, though they're needed now more than ever to keep essential services, like food pantries, open and operating.

The longer the pandemic, the longer the line at Emeryville Community Action Program, where more struggling families show up every day for free food.

The shelter in place and social distancing, that have forced people out of jobs and into line, have also left food banks and distribution sites without 40% of their volunteer workforce, which is where Coaching Corps stepped in.

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"Great coaches don't leave kids in time of greatest need, and as an organization we don't either," said Janet Carter, the CEO of Coaching Corps.

Coaching Corps is an Oakland based non-profit, which pre-pandemic, connected athletic mentors - coaches - with low-income kids.

But with sports and group gatherings canceled, the mission changed.

"We were able to redeploy our biggest asset, which is getting volunteers to meet immediate needs of communities."

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Coaches are now boxing up groceries for those hit hardest by the viral recession.

A few months ago, Oakland native and retired NBA player, Antonio Davis, signed up to coach for the corps.

"The one thing I do know, is basketball!"

But when courts closed, Davis wanted to pivot his volunteer efforts, so Coaching Corps connected him to the ECAP.

"I was packing boxes, I was unloading different things, handing out food, doing some organizing."

Davis actually grew up near the West Oakland Food Pantry, where he now volunteers several times a week.

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"I passed this place for many many years and I seen them in action, but I've never been here to really meet the people and see where their hearts were or what they were doing, but forever changed my life," Davis said.

"I'll always come down here a couple times a week, no matter what's going on and give some time."

Pandemic conditions have made volunteering more complicated, but the work is necessary.

"We're taking precautions. We're washing things down, we're wearing the gloves, we're wearing the masks," said Bobby Miller, volunteer and ECAP operations manager.

Coaching Corps now provides half of his volunteers. "Thanks to them, we're able to continue in a very systematic and safe way for everybody."

Delivering food qualifies as a government-approved essential service.

If you're not in a high risk category for exposure to COVID-19, you can sign up to volunteer at dozens of sites in the Bay Area and across country. Supply donations are also needed, if you can't volunteer.

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