Coronavirus Impact: Silicon Valley food programs see sudden rise in demand, costs

SILICON VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Feeding the hungry is a monumental task, and even more so now during the novel coronavirus pandemic

The nonprofit group Hunger At Home makes about one million meals per year. Across town, Martha's Kitchen is doing about 600,000 per year. They and others engaged in similar missions are seeing a surge in demand tied mostly to sudden layoffs.

Some of them are volunteers from the hotel and culinary unions.

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"We're talking over 10,000 people that are part of these unions, and most of them have lost their jobs," said Dinari Brown, Hunger At Home's chief operating officer. "That's a huge increase."

These groups are determined to meet the challenge. However, it's going to incur direct out-of-pocket costs because they no longer are getting donations of surplus food from the kitchens that feed Silicon Valley's tech workers because they're working at home.

"We've been doing about 12,000 meals a week," said Bill Lee of Martha's Kitchen. "Right now, we're up to around 18,000 meals a week, and I would anticipate that it'll probably end up... we'll probably max out a 24,000 meals a week."

That's costing Martha's Kitchen $50,000 more per month and that amount could double in order to service over 60 partners that feed the hungry in six counties.

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Besides having to buy food that used to be donated, Martha's Kitchen is spending $15,000 per month just to buy to-go boxes so individual sandwiches and meals can be kept safe from the coronavirus. There's also the cost of more gloves, hand sanitizer and masks.

They're getting help from the new Silicon Valley Food Recovery Council, which is acting as a clearing house to buy and share food purchased in bulk to save money.

"To be able to have that relationship with the distributor and then we can use the council to redistribute to all these nonprofits, then we'll all be eating the same food," said Robin Martin, executive director of the council.

It's still early, but the hope is that working collaboratively will soften the economic impact.

A volunteer for 11 years, Cynthia White hopes others will join her in making 4,000 sandwiches each week.

"Once you see the families that come in and the various people that come in, you'll know there's a big need out there to be filled," she said.

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