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Panic Buying Strains the World’s Food Banks

As the numbers of unemployed and needy rise, many more people are seeking food relief.

Packing home delivery boxes at a food bank distribution center in Elmsford, N.Y., on March 16.

Packing home delivery boxes at a food bank distribution center in Elmsford, N.Y., on March 16.

Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg

The line stretched for over a mile. More than 800 cars idled for several hours, bumper to bumper, on a damp gray Monday in Duquesne, Pa. They were lining up to get food from an emergency distribution organized by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Eventually, each car drove away with two 25-pound boxes of groceries. The food bank estimates it served 1,700 local families in that one giveaway.

Whether the scene is rows of cars or long lines of people stretching down and around city blocks, similar ones are playing out around the world as the novel coronavirus pandemic strains food supplies and the services of food banks. Brian Greene runs America’s biggest food bank, in Houston, where he’s lived through his share of hurricanes and other disasters. None of those compare to the need he’s seeing from the current crisis.