As the San Antonio Food Bank sees a twofold increase in the number of people needing assistance in the wake of coronavirus-related closures, H-E-B delivered 24 truckloads of food to food banks across Texas on Monday.

The San Antonio-based grocer delivered enough food for about 500,000 meals to food banks across the state, including the San Antonio Food Bank. The donations come at a time when H-E-B is coping with its own surge in demand for groceries, a rush that leaves shelves temporarily empty and triggers long lines when doors open each morning.

The grocery trucks were loaded with everything from loaves of bread and frozen chicken breasts to cleaning supplies and other household essentials needed by a rising number of children, seniors, and low-income families as people throughout San Antonio feel the impacts of shuttered businesses and job layoffs.

The latest donation follows the $1.2 million and 15 truckloads of food and household items H-E-B provided earlier this month to food banks affiliated with Feeding Texas, a statewide network of food banks.

“We are in this together and we are facing something we’ve never faced before, and this is really about Texas helping Texans,” said H-E-B spokeswoman Julie Bedingfield.

The closure of schools and the City of San Antonio’s stay-at-home order has contributed to an increase in the need for food along with shortages of some items as the crisis spurred panic-buying and hoarding.

Retired nonprofit fundraiser Laura Carter and her husband Richard Irons, a Marine Corps veteran, receive monthly grocery items – fruits, vegetables, and protein items such as meat and fish – from the food bank via a program called Soldier’s Angels that help take pressure off their limited income.

The food assistance is needed even more since a sharp drop in business and leisure travel have cut into their pet-sitting business. “There’s no extra money coming in now,” she said.

“In the midst of this COVID-19 crisis, all of us have realized we cannot take groceries for granted,” said Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, which normally feeds about 60,000 people a week.

Last week, he said, the food bank fed twice that number: 120,000 people.

“That’s unprecedented for us,” Cooper said. “That means we’re shipping twice the amount of food. That means that if we don’t get the support that we need, we will quickly run out.”

In February, food bank officials watched as the coronavirus crisis unfolded in China and spread across the world, and began doubling food delivery to seniors.

But the need in the community escalated as schools were closed and workers laid off. “So it’s that tidal wave of need that is representing the 120,000 people,” Cooper said. “We’ve had unprecedented doubling of our demand that we’re just working to try to take care of.

“I worry that we won’t have enough, that we will have to ration and give less and do what we can rather than nourish.”

The current rush of demand is unlike what Texas food banks experienced following Hurricane Harvey in 2017 because the need is not confined to one part of the state, he added; food is in great demand across the nation, not just here. The crisis is also much more prolonged and indefinite than a weather event.

“Collectively, we’ll get through this – there’s hope on the other side of this crisis,” Cooper said. “But it’s going to take neighbor reaching out to neighbor and doing things in unconventional, different ways. It’s not the same approach that we’ve taken with our natural disasters.”

Though the panic-driven shopping surge of recent weeks is slowing down, Bedingfield said, H-E-B continues to remind customers to shop as they normally would.

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“We’re prepared for the long term,” she said. “There’s no need to hoard or panic-buy. Just continue shopping with us throughout whatever the duration of the COVID-19 might be.”

Bedingfield added that H-E-B has seen a number of customers shopping for their neighbors, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. “We encourage everyone to just lend a helping hand,” she said.

Cooper advised individuals who need help to apply for food benefits at the San Antonio Food Bank website.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.