The Arkansas Foodbank planned to hand out food for four hours on Tuesday, but the demand was so high that all the food was gone within an hour and a half, the charity said.
Cars lined up at the Outlets of Little Rock mall, which hosted the event, as early as 5:30 a.m., when the food bank’s workers arrived to unload the trucks, Arkansas Foodbank CEO Rhonda Sanders said.
At one point, cars were wrapped around the mall, up and down the parking lot, and along the access road, Sanders said. CNN affiliate KARK reported that cars were backed up along a nearby interstate.
Eight hundred and forty families received food on Tuesday.
“I feel like I could have served 2,000 more families,” Sanders said.
Even though Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson didn’t declare a statewide stay-at-home order, many businesses have been forced to close or curtail their services.
Half of the people the food bank serves these days are newcomers, people who’ve lost their jobs or had their hours cut, Sanders said.
“The number one issue has been job loss,” Sanders said. “Our service industry has been hit terribly hard. It just kind of rolls down from there.”
Sanders’s son was laid off for three or four weeks, she said.
The Arkansas rate of unemployment jumped from 3.5% to 4.8% in March, when the Covid-19 outbreak began causing businesses to close, according to the latest figure available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, Arkansas ranked second in the nation for low food security, according to Arkansas Foodbank, and 17.3% of Arkansans faced hunger.
These are people who have low incomes and not a lot of food in their pantry, Sanders said.
“And they’re just scared. They’re so uncertain about the future – is there going to be enough food at the grocery store?”
Sanders said she went from car to car after the Foodbank ran out of boxes, explaining that families could get food from their pantry next week.
“The hardest one – there was one lady who literally started crying,” Sanders said. “I would have done anything to have a food box in my back pocket to give to her.”