The East Texas Food Bank has seen an increased need for food since the pandemic started, and as some schools will no longer be offering school feeding programs, the nonprofit is getting ready for a busy season.

"In April we actually had a 72% increase in households served versus April 2019,” said Tim Butler, program services director. “There’s certainly a need during the summer the schools don’t operate so the kids that really rely on free lunch or free breakfast they don’t have that resource.”

From June 1 through August 7, 26 different locations across East Texas will offer a free lunch to kids under 18.

“Every meal is going to have a sandwich with whole-grain bread, meat and cheese,” explained Butler. “We’re going to have a fresh produce item every single day along with fresh milk and then we’re going to have an additional shelf-stable item like apple sauce or orange juice.”

Because of the pandemic there have been some changes made to the program, like volunteers who will be wearing masks.

“In the past the kids were required to stay at the site and eat the food on-site and that's no longer the case," he said.

Curbside pickup will also be offered at each site.

“It’s not mandatory to drive up it’s just a secondary option,” said Butler. “We will still serve walk-ups, we'll just ask they practice social distancing, they're not eating close to other families and kids."

All of the locations will serve lunch from noon until 1 p.m., but the different spots will choose what days meals are provided.

Certain locations like the Glass Recreation Center in Tyler will also provide breakfast and on Mondays kids can receive a free weekly activity book.

“We’re seeing a lot more people that need food that normally don’t,” said Butler. “So this is a huge deal, in the best of times 25% of kids in East Texas are at risk of hunger, one and four.”

The East Texas Food Bank can’t do it alone though, Butler says the nonprofit could always use help, and especially during this time.

“There are three ways to help the food bank again during the best of times and now we need help too,” he explained. “It’s donating food for us to help distribute to our partner agencies, donating money that allows us to purchase free produce that we hand out and donate your time.”

To learn more about the East Texas Food Bank’s Summer Feeding program, click here.