HUNTINGTON — Huntington’s largest food distributor to the hungry is facing two major issues because of the coronavirus crisis — increased need and a potential lack of funding.

Facing Hunger Foodbank in the 1300 block of 7th Avenue is the largest food distributor in the Tri-State area. The nonprofit agency feeds around 116,000 hungry people each year by distributing food and grocery products through its pantries and programs. It serves 17 counties, including Boone, Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties in West Virginia.

“We are seeing some seniors and others that we traditionally haven’t served due to food and product shortages due to panic shopping going on right now,” said Cynthia Kirkhart, executive director at Facing Hunger Foodbank.

Kirkhart said many seniors and others considered part of the vulnerable population for the virus are also concerned about shopping in crowded stores.

“We are regularly in touch with our community partners who serve seniors and understand the concerns of being exposed to this virus in public places, as well as their lack of mobility to try to find food and products that might not be available at their local market during this crisis,” she said. “For example, with the Cabell County Community Services Organization, if we can supplant food and provide additional resources for them to distribute, we are doing that.”

While the need is increasing, one of the organization’s largest fundraising events has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

“The Empty Bowls event scheduled for Friday, April 3, has been canceled,” Kirkhart said.

It’s a fundraising event where you purchase a handmade bowl created by area artists and Marshall University ceramics students, and the proceeds are donated to the Facing Hunger Foodbank. Bowls cost $15, and a modest soup lunch would have been served.

“At a time that is critical in our work, this fundraiser that provides between $15,000 to $20,000 in immediate funds for our work will not be held this year,” Kirkhart said. “Yesterday alone, we ordered over $57,000 in food to assist all in need through this crisis. We want everyone safe, but our attention must also be placed toward collecting funds to continue.”

Kirkhart said the organization is looking at a way to sell the bowls without having the event.

“We are exploring options to selling the bowls and T-shirts to raise funds,” she said.

Kirkhart is urging anyone that can help to do so.

“Please assist as you can with donations of your time, talent or treasure,” she said. “It is desperately needed during this time of crisis.”

For the past two weeks, the food bank has been following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for safe food handling.

“First and foremost, we are making sure that the team here is exhibiting and knowledgeable of good, safe healthy practices for us to continue to provide food to those in need,” Kirkhart said. “We are hand-washing every 15 minutes, sanitizing our high-use areas and also sharing that information with our member agencies.”

Facing Hunger Foodbank has over 250 member agencies, according to Kirkhart.

“This information is helping to elevate some of the fears and concerns,” she said. “There are ways we can continue to feed people and be safe about doing it.”

The organization also is looking at ways to alter some of its practices because of the coronavirus fears.

“Rather than having people come into pantries and select food, we are trying to pre-box as much food as possible to keep that social distance right now to keep everyone healthy,” she said. “We are thinking about doing an older group distribution and then have our regular group. This is not to segregate, but more to underscore what we are doing to try to keep people safe.”

Kirkhart said the agency is continuing its regular county runs.

“We are making sure food still gets out to folks, but we are also in the contingency planning stage that if we have pantries that opt not to be open at this time, that we would be able to make a delivery and distribute food directly to the people they serve,” she explained. “We haven’t had to use this plan yet, but we are preparing for it.”

Those with questions or concerns about local resources or how to access food can call Facing Hunger Foodbank at 304-523-6029.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.