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'People are fearful' | Long Megamart lines highlight need for food during pandemic

As the spread of coronavirus continues to bring an economic downturn, area food banks are reporting surges in people needing help and drops in retail donations.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Lines for free groceries and vouchers stretched for hundreds of yards at multiple Megamart stores in Maryland and Virginia on Friday, not only bringing up social distancing concerns during the spread of coronavirus, but also showing the need for food during the economic downturn.

Food banks in the region have dealt with huge increases in the number of people needing help. According to the Capital Area Food Bank, the amount of people coming in for food at their nonprofit partners has soared 30%-400% during the spread of the virus. Calls to its Hunger Lifeline, which people can call to receive free food, have tripled over the last few weeks.

RELATED: Huge lines form outside of Megamart grocery stores

A spokesman added that retail food donations, which normally can be responsible for millions of dollars in help, have dropped 75% during the spread of coronavirus. As a result, the food bank had to purchase 45 truckloads of food in April. The amount represents more than the group normally needs to purchase in a year.

Following the scenes that emerged from Megamart stores on Friday, Thrive DC, a nonprofit working to end homelessness, said that the long lines were not a shock. 

"It demonstrates how desperate people are right now," Executive Director Alicia Horton said. "I think people are fearful. They don’t know how long this is going to last."

For Horton, the need for help highlighted a real issue many people are experiencing now.

"I hear people talk about the difficulties of staying home but I think there’s a whole other level of need and despair," she said. "This kind of display is evidence of how people are suffering." 

Moving forward, she said the need for assistance could grow with the spread of coronavirus still facing an uncertain end.

"As people lose their jobs, their incomes or savings begin to dwindle," she said. "I think they’re looking for opportunities to help themselves and their families."

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