NY area food banks prepare for surge as unemployment benefits expire

Workers at Island Harvest Food Bank working in conjunction with the Nourish New York initiative, distribute New York produced goods to people in need of food assistance on May 08, 2020 in Massapequa, New York
File photo: Workers at Island Harvest Food Bank working in conjunction with the Nourish New York initiative, distribute New York produced goods to people in need of food assistance on May 08, 2020 in Massapequa, New York. Photo credit Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- With the future of a massive COVID relief package in limbo in Washington, local food banks are expecting a surge in demand as federal unemployment benefits run out.

Before the pandemic, food banks like Island Harvest Food Bank on Long Island relied primarily on donations to get food to people.

“From the community, from food drives, but also from wholesalers, distributors, retailers and supermarkets,” said CEO Randi Shubin Dresner.

She said donations plummeted this year, so they had to make up for it by buying food.

“Within a few short weeks, our purchasing went up well over 500%,” she said. “Not only could we not get food donations, but there was an increase in the need for help and for support, and so we needed much more food to help the communities than ever before.”

A lot of donations have returned, but the need remains. With extended unemployment benefits expiring for millions amid a COVID relief package impasse, Shubin Dresner said her food bank is ready. But she also has a message for elected officials.

“There are food lines on Long Island and across this country that should not be there,” she said. “People should not be standing in line for hours to get food so that they can feed their families.”

One of the government programs she’s thankful for is called Nourish New York, which allows food banks to buy food made in the state, helping out the local economy. But that funding came with the CARES Act and it runs out in days.

“All of the pantry networks across our community, and really across the country, are struggling,” she said.