Local food banks starved of volunteers thanks to omicron surge

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INDIANAPOLIS — At noon, the production line at Gleaners Food Bank’s southwest side warehouse should have been humming with volunteers stuffing non-perishable goods into cardboard boxes bound for the homes of hungry recipients who can’t get out to get their food.

Today, those aluminum conveyor racks were empty, the production line deserted.

“Today it is quiet because omicron has really started to impact us at Gleaners with our volunteers,” said Sarah Ezell. “It’s impacting all of us but so many more people are infected or quarantining waiting for testing results, home with a kid who is e-learning, that we’re seeing so many cancellations right now and it’s really put us in a crunch especially for our home delivery clients next week.”

Ezell said the omicron surge is not only keeping volunteers away, it is forcing many more people to stay home and keeping them from shopping for food.

“With omicron, we’re seeing more and more people, those numbers are going up as people are quarantining or waiting for test results or are ill.”

At Midwest Food Bank, Executive Director John Whitaker had to deploy his office staff to the warehouse to help the skeleton crew of volunteers who made it in today.

“On a typical distribution day here at Midwest every Tuesday and Thursday we put through about 50 agencies,” said Whitaker. “Today we had about 20 volunteers to put those 50 through. We got it done but we need some more hands to get that work done so typically we would need anywhere between 30 to 40 volunteers here to do the work.”

Whitaker said his warehouses are receiving more food than ever.

“The problem isn’t the product,” he said. “The problem is getting it into the hands of the people who need it efficiently and quickly.

“I know you’ve heard about the hospitals and some of the shortages there and all the things. It’s the same things for the not-for-profit sector that is doing a lot of the feeding. We’re the safety net for people.”

If you want to volunteer, go to gleaners.org/volunteer or volunteer.mfbindy.org.

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