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COVID-19 Prevention Practices for Food Banks & Food Pantries

March 9, 2020

Current recommendations include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently used objects and surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, and cell phones.
  • Stay at home and away from others if you are feeling ill.
  • Develop and clearly communicate a plan that includes guidance to staff, volunteers, and clients:
    • Protective measures for older adults or immuno-compromised populations.
    • Reduces fear, barriers, and stigma.
    • Continues access to food.

Promising Practices: Scaling Delivery and No Contact Models for Food Assistance to Older Adults During the COVID-19 Crisis >> Read the report here.

COVID-19 Community Based Food Assistance to Older Adults: Lessons Learned from the First Months of Operations >> Read the report here. 

Additional measures:

  • Create an alternate delivery system such as a drive through distribution where clients pull up in their cars and volunteers deliver a prepackaged bag to their car.
  • Prepackage bags and pass out food at the door.
  • Pre-bag produce so people are not touching produce in self-select models.
  • Request that clients wear gloves, or require them to wash their hands / use sanitizer before selecting their food products.
  • Tell sick clients to stay home and ask a friend or neighbor to pick up their groceries.
  • Extend hours or open an additional day so clients are spread out and there isn’t congestion in the space or in the line.
  • Limit the number of people in a food pantry space.
  • If program has an appointment system-admit, fewer people for each appointment. Add additional appointment times. Consider using texting vs. having people wait in line for food at agencies. Have them wait in their cars and you text when it is their turn to come in.
  • Encourage cleaning of counters, handles on carts (if using grocery carts), door knobs / handles, pens, computers stations, etc.
  • Temporarily postpone any food demos or cooking classes and refrain from offering food samples.
  • Request a waiver from your contractor to alter your client intake process. Such as allowing food staff and volunteers to fill out any forms or paperwork on behalf of their clients. Clients must be able to view and verbally verify the information documented is correct. Staff and volunteers cannot sign on behalf of a client. Before choosing to implement any changes, you should ensure the changes won’t create compliance issues with other streams of funding your food book / pantry might receive.

More extensive measures that may be needed in the future:

USDA and other food banks / pantries have developed procedures if the risk of infection to the general population continues to increase. These are not required or being formally recommended at this time:

  • Social Distancing – Stay at least six feet away from each other, especially if someone may be sick.
  • Removing or limiting access to chairs, papers, bathrooms, and other things regularly in client wait areas or available to clients.
  • Isolation and Quarantine of sick persons – consider if your organization can provide service to individuals in isolation or quarantine such as dropping off meals or supplies.
  • FNS has procedures in place if we experience a Situation of Distress or if the President declares a state of Emergency.

Supply Chain Considerations:

  • Prepare and plan for operations with a reduced workforce.
  • Identify essential positions and people required to sustain necessary functions and operations. Cross-train or develop ways to function in absence of these positions.
  • Plan for downsizing services but also anticipate scenarios which may require a surge in your services. For example, pre-packing food boxes for use in your subcontractors’ distribution, or using mobile food banks to do distributions in areas whose food pantries are not able to open due to insufficient staffing or volunteers.

USDA FNS is working on releasing guidance specifically for this situation and currently offers guidance through the USDA Foods Program Disaster Manual.

*Information from various sources including: California Department of Public Health, Meals on Wheels, Northwest Harvest, USDA, Washington State Department of Agriculture, and more.

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