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Food Pantries Bracing for Holidays, Colder Weather

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Demand for food assistance in Nebraska has spiked during COVID-19, with Omaha's Together drive-through food pantry serving some 250 cars daily. (Wikimedia Commons)
Demand for food assistance in Nebraska has spiked during COVID-19, with Omaha's Together drive-through food pantry serving some 250 cars daily. (Wikimedia Commons)
 By Eric Galatas - Producer, Contact
November 19, 2020

OMAHA, Neb. -- The number of Nebraskans not sure where their next meal would come from was on the decline in 2019, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic upended the nation's economy, sending millions of Americans into unemployment lines.

Mike Hornacek, president and CEO of the group Together Omaha, said September was the busiest month on record for his Omaha-based food pantry. Since March 16, Together has provided food to 127,000 visitors.

"The hunger and food-insecurity need has continued to skyrocket," Hornacek observed. "It is worse now than at what we thought was the peak of the pandemic back in March, April and May."

Hornacek's group is marking National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week with a virtual fundraising event at togetheromaha.org.

In previous years, Hornacek encouraged people to come out and volunteer, but for health and safety reasons, he said financial support is the most effective way for Nebraskans to help their struggling neighbors.

Together also has provided $830,000 in rent and utility assistance to some 2,000 households since the onset of COVID-19. Hornacek said families in places such as Omaha and Lincoln can turn to nonprofits for emergency assistance, but that's not always the case in rural parts of the state.

"We've seen people driving from very far distances to get food from us, farther than we've ever seen before," Hornacek explained. "The pandemic is exposing the limitation on resources when you get outside of the metropolitan areas."

Together currently serves some 250 cars per day, Monday through Friday, at their converted drive through pantry, but Hornacek warned working outside can only last so long.

The group recently purchased a building next door, an unexpected expense, to expand to 10,000 square feet for safe indoor service when winter arrives.

"While we did the big pivot to the drive-through pantry, we've been working ridiculously fast to hit a January 4th deadline," Hornacek explained. "And we're crossing our fingers and toes that Nebraska weather is really nice to us between now and then."

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