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Food bank is desperate for volunteers

The Redwood Empire Food Bank is desperate for volunteers to keep up with the demand for food assistance in Sonoma Valley and throughout the county.

"So many people needing assistance right now have never had to ask for help before. And we are seeing the highest numbers we’ve ever seen," Dave Goodman, CEO of Redwood Empire Food Bank said.

There has been a 70 percent increase in food need over the past few years, up 53 percent since the pandemic first hit, and while the volume of food is adequate, the greater need is for shift work.

"We are at a critical moment right now in our need for volunteers. We have enough food to feed our neighbors in need, but we don't have enough volunteers to help prepare and package the food for distribution," Goodman said. "In 33 years, the need has never been so great."

More than 30,000 households go to Redwood Empire Food Bank each month to get food. That total is up from 23,000 households pre-pandemic.

Goodman said the need for food assistance isn’t only attributable to the pandemic, but also to natural disasters. Volunteers and donors have kept the food bank going through it all.

"It's been remarkable over the past year — whether it's heat, fire, smoke, rain, cold, darkness or COVID-19 — volunteers come day after day. They rack up hundreds of hours individually to make sure that fellow members in the community get the help that they need,” he said. "We've never done anything alone here. We depend on volunteers to feed the community."

A couple of hours of time can make a big difference to the operation and there are multiple opportunities and shifts offered.

A second volunteer tent behind the food bank’s warehouse was set up at 3990 Brickway Blvd. in Santa Rosa. Two new shift times – one in the morning, the other in the evening – were added to accommodate schedules.

Shifts are available Monday through Friday in each of the following time periods:

7 to 9 a.m.

10 a.m. to noon

1 to 4 p.m.

5 to 7 p.m.

There are more than 300 distribution sites across Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, Del Norte and Humboldt counties, but the greatest need is for volunteers in the 7 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. warehouse shifts. Volunteers there are needed to help glean and package fresh produce, assemble grocery boxes, and sort donated staple pantry items for distribution.

Businesses are encouraged to bring employees in to “take over for the day” and use the time as a team building exercise.

The nonprofit is following all CDC recommended precautions such as requiring masks, social distancing and the use of hand sanitizer and gloves. Volunteers are outdoors working under a tent.

Visit refb.org and click the volunteer link in the top right corner.

Contact Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

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