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'If they don't eat here, often times they don't eat at all' | How those serving the disadvantaged are handling coronavirus pandemic

Loaves & Fishes and the Sacramento Food Bank are changing their protocol, both locking down and ramping up efforts to help provide services to the disadvantaged.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — As restaurants and bars in Sacramento's city center continue to close down to hinder the spread of coronavirus, concern continues to grow among places that serve the disadvantaged.

On a typical day, Sacramento's Loaves & Fishes serves and shelters around 1,000 homeless people. Within their dining facilities, there's usually around 75 people enjoying meals at any given time.

But with new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cancel all gatherings of 10 or less people, Loaves & Fishes is changing their protocol. The organization is shutting down around noon each day as well as reformatting their dining hall, so guests file through 10 at a time and receive to-go food rather than eating in.

"We're trying to limit that window but still provide critical services to folks because we understand that people, they rely on us for the day to day," said Loaves & Fishes Executive Director Noel Kammermann. "If they don't eat here, often times they don't eat at all."

RELATED: Homeless community one of most vulnerable to coronavirus | How are officials protecting them?

Loaves & Fishes is one of 220 agencies to which the Sacramento Food Bank provides food and other goods. In other words, they serve around 150,000 people every month, or 30 million pounds of food per year.

As many places are close down because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Sacramento Food Bank is ramping up efforts to serve even more people.

"As things change and maybe get more serious, we're going to try and take the supply of food we have beyond the 150,000 people that we serve and try to deploy food out in the community where it's needed most," said Sacramento Food Bank President and CEO Blake Young. 

Young said they're taking all updates hour by hour but are concerned about the possibility of an eventual food shortage, especially as more people continue to reach out. They're working with the CDC and U.S. government but worry that they will have to prioritize who gets food. Young said he believes elderly people quarantined at home would be of top priority, but he doesn't want to be the one to make that call.

"We're asking for leaders of this county for some direction," Young said. "I don't think it should be our responsibility to prioritize [food]. I think it should be our leaders doing that."

Not hearing from local officials is something Loaves & Fishes is concerned with as well. 

RELATED: Coronavirus Resources: A guide to help you and your family

"We haven't had any direct contact from the city or county which, at this point, is very disturbing," Kammermann explained. 

Kammermann said he hopes officials will contact them to help with a plan if they do hear of potentially infected homeless individuals so they can get tested quickly and prevent contagion to others.

Another shared worry is the decline of volunteers - something organizations in the area and nation rely on for daily workflow.

The Sacramento Food Bank is closing their family services office in Oak Park to deploy employees and volunteer to their main branch. Loaves and Fishes is asking the community for help, whether that be money donations or volunteers coming in to assist serving those in need.

"Part of our biggest operation is utilizing volunteers," said Young. "Many volunteers are deciding not to show up [and] if they're 65 or older, they're encouraged not to show up."

Follow the conversation on Facebook on with Andie Judson.

CORONAVIRUS BACKGROUND

According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) is a family of viruses that is spreadable from person to person. Coronavirus is believed to have been first detected in a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December 2019. If someone is sick with coronavirus, the symptoms they may show include mild to severe respiratory illness, cough, and difficulty breathing.

Currently, there is no vaccine, however, the CDC suggests the following precautions, along with any other respiratory illness:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.

The CDC also says facemasks should only be used by people who show symptoms of the virus. If you’re not sick, you do not have to wear a facemask. The CDC says the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low.

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