CHICAGO (CBS) — Food pantries across the country are in crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic. CBS 2’s Marissa Parra tells us about the latest hurdles to keep Chicago’s people fed.

“Food banks have dealt with recessions; we’ve dealt with natural disasters, but this feels like we’re dealing with both at the same time,” said Jim Conwell, senior director of marketing and communications for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

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With the COVID-19 outbreak, the need for food is high, but food banks are struggling. They need volunteers in a time when people are afraid to leave their homes. They need financial donations in a time when people are strapped for cash. And they need more food in a time when food is getting harder to come by

“Due to this crisis, there have been fewer donated pounds available,” Conwell said.

Historically, grocery stores have been a key supplier of food donations.

“Since restaurants and other things are closed, a lot more people are going to buy groceries and stocking up on groceries for longer periods of time,” Conwell said.

In other words, those empty shelves now common in stores mean less donated food.

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The Greater Chicago Food Depository has seen a 30% decrease in donated food compared to last March—and a 40% spike in demand. Volunteers who have been working with Chicago food pantries for years are seeing a surge of new faces

Kathleen Morris, of the St. Ignatius food pantry said: “They never thought they’d be coming to a food pantry, they’re not really comfortable coming to a food pantry.”

Robert Crawford, of the Libertyville Chapel food pantry, added: ”It’s been heartbreaking to see the need go up so much.”

And in order to meet the demand, the food banks are having to spend their own money. Overall, the Greater Chicago Food Depository is looking at a 40% increase in food spending from March until the end of June.

They are asking for help to keep those in need fed. “We need cash to purchase food, to keep our trucks on the road, to keep our operations going,” Conwell said.

Click here to donate money to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, or to volunteer, click here.   Two other volunteer opportunities: Lakeview Food Pantry and Northern Illinois Food Bank.

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