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Outbreak Voices: Seattle Food Bank Director On The Impact Of Coronavirus

JEN MUZIA: I would say right now in terms of the coronavirus, my state of mind is just really one of wanting to take care of our neighbors.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

That's Jen Muzia, the executive director of the Ballard Food Bank in Seattle. That city is the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. At the food bank, fewer volunteers are showing up; fewer clients, too. Muzia says they're down about 30%. People don't want to be out and about if they don't have to be. The outbreak has also affected what the food bank has on its shelves.

MUZIA: We would send our volunteers out to recover groceries from the grocery stores, and our trucks would come back with less food in them. And that was really because everyone in our community is feeling a sense of anxiety. And people are going out and shopping and purchasing things for their families as they need to. But that also means, for food banks, that we see less food coming in to our clients.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Muzia and her staff have worked hard to protect themselves, the volunteers and their clients. They've increased cleaning. They're hand-washing even more. And when they learned about social distancing, they made changes to how the food bank works.

MUZIA: We're normally set up as a grocery store, and people come in and shop in a really dignified way. And to us, that's one of the values we hold so dear. But with the coronavirus, we're pre-packing bags of food of, like, nonperishable items. And then our volunteers, when our neighbors come in to shop and get food, instead they're staying outside, and we're giving them those pre-packed bags. But then in essence, we almost have, like, a personal shopper who then takes the requests from our client, whether that's, you know, some sort of produce or dairy or meat, and then they're actually going and shopping for that in the food bank and bringing that back to go along with the nonperishable items already in the bag.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MUZIA: Sometimes lately, it's been - I think a lot of us with the news and things that are going on in our community, it's very easy to get frustrated. But I also see how people come together in time of crisis and how people really take care of one another, how people are calling us, asking how they can help - you know, can they come volunteer? What does the food bank need? - all these types of questions where people, you know, they see the need in the community. And they want to make a difference. And so that's when we really see people stepping up. That part gives me hope how we can all come together and take the right steps to take care of one another.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jen Muzia, the executive director of the Ballard Food Bank in Seattle. * Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.