Panic buying causes Orange County food bank to nearly run out of food amid coronavirus outbreak

Panic buying and a dropoff in donations has put Orange County's food banks in a bind at a time when demand for their services is on the rise.

The Orange County Food Bank was in danger of running out of food this week, director Mark Lowry said. But financial donations rolled in, he said.

"Today was a very, very busy day," Lowry said Thursday. "There's a lot of potentially exciting things going on."

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Lowry was contacted by Amazon Wednesday night about assisting a pilot project delivering food door-to-door to seniors.

Also on Wednesday, a FedEx envelope arrived, bearing the "single- largest private donation we've ever received -- a $250,000 check," Lowry said.

About $300,000 in cash donations came in over the past day, Lowry said.

"That will last less than two weeks,'" Lowry said, explaining how expensive it is to replenish the food bank by buying groceries.

"On the supply side, we have no food drives and no food donations in part because of panic buying," Lowry said.

On the "demand side," more people are asking for help, he said.

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The Orange County Labor Federation told Lowry that 92% of its members found themselves out of work because of COVID-19. Many of the union's members work for the theme parks, hotels, restaurants and catering services, "and they were desperate for food, so what we had we gave to them," Lowry said.

The organization's website,, received more than 2,000 hits from Friday through Thursday, Lowry said.

A local construction company that had to shut down operations because of the pandemic offered to lend its trucks for food deliveries, Lowry said.

Donations can be made to the food bank online.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County also announced it needs more financial donations to buy food for the needy.

"We are in need of donations to purchase shelf-stable food to fill our trucks for the weeks and months ahead,'' said Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County CEO Harald Hermann.

Second Harvest had to draw from its emergency reserve fund to buy two truckloads of peanut butter, quick oats and 400,000 pounds of potatoes to be delivered to the nonprofit's partner sites each week over the next two months.

"We have been proactively fundraising to procure 37 truckloads, or 1.1 million pounds of shelf-stable foods -our most critical need," Hermann said. "Generous donors have quickly stepped up to fund 17 truckloads, reducing our current need to 20 truckloads. However, based on the rapidly changing crisis environment, we
anticipate that need to continue beyond our initial eight-week plan.''

Donations can be made online

Second Harvest also needs volunteers 18 to 64 years old who have mid- sized or larger pickup trucks to help deliver food boxes to pantries and distribution sites since the organization had to close down its distribution center.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said, "There's a possibility of a number of counties looking to the National Guard for food distribution. We're looking at all options at this point."