SAN RAFAEL (KPIX) – The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many companies to rethink the way they operate to prevent cross-contamination, including local food banks. Some believe they will actually be stronger because of it.

The facility in San Rafael is normally just a warehouse; they don’t normally distribute food to people from there. But for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, the coronavirus has been the mother of invention.

“We can’t use as many volunteers because they have to spread out,” said executive director Paul Ash. “We’re used to working shoulder to shoulder…can’t do that anymore, six feet apart.”

So, they’ve created an assembly line where volunteers move with their boxes down a conveyor belt instead of passing them off to someone else. That way, each box is filled by one set of hands rather than many. It turns out, things move pretty quickly that way.

“I think it’s super efficient,” said volunteer Corey Stodolnic. “I think it’s really, really needed as seen by how many people are coming through.”

Normally at food giveaways, people stand in line, putting groups of strangers in close contact. But Saturday, as cars lined up around the building, once again, things were different. Drivers popped their trunks and pulled up without getting out. Volunteers loaded the boxes into the cars which then pulled away and, when at a safe distance, the drivers closed their own trunk lids.

“We’re figuring out ways to give people food where you don’t have to get close,” said Ash. “You don’t have to touch people and people don’t feel their food has been handled by a lot of folks. So, drive-thru is the ultimate no-touch food distribution.”

The food bank’s executive director says, considering the response to Saturday’s giveaway, they will probably continue a weekly drive-thru distribution. But he believes once the virus has passed, people will want to return to the “walk up” method as a way to feed their hunger for friendly human contact.

“Honestly, people like our pantries,” he said. “They enjoy seeing their neighbors, seeing the volunteers that work there and they’re pretty nice social places as well as places where people get their food needs met.”

On Saturday, the food bank gave away 500 boxes of food in four hours. They are asking for public donations so they can buy more food to help the growing number of people who aren’t working because of the shelter in place.

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