POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – It has been over a year since the pandemic lockdown was lifted in Florida, but the need for food assistance in Tampa Bay remains 35% higher than pre-pandemic times, according to the leader of Feeding Tampa Bay.

“In our 10 counties, we had about 650,000 folks who were considered food insecure before the pandemic. We still have about a million who are food insecure a year later,” said Thomas Mantz, the president and CEO of Feeding Tampa Bay.

Demand surged 400% at the start of the pandemic and has since waned, but not vanished.

“For our organization and all organizations in the social services area, this has been a really long 16 months, 17 months,” said Mantz.

Drive-thru and “mega” food pantries, a product of the pandemic, have continued to serve families across the area.

In Polk County, up to 16% of people are food insecure, according to Mantz.

“When we think about hunger, we tend to think about it as this global issue but the reality is hunger is a neighbor, a coworker who lost their job, someone who you know in your world every single day,” Mantz said.

In honor of Hunger Action Month, Publix donated $200,000 to Feeding Tampa Bay.

“As a food retailer, the single greatest impact we can make is in helping alleviate food insecurity in the communities that we serve,” said Maria Brous, the director of communications at Publix.

Publix has donated 2.8 million pounds of food to Feeding Tampa since the start of the pandemic, according to Brous.

“Produce has been on our radar since last year during the pandemic when many farmers were plowing through their crops because they had a decrease in need from schools and restaurants,” she said.

Publix launched an initiative that connected farmers to non-profit organizations, including Feeding Tampa Bay.

Learn more about Publix’s efforts to combat hunger by visiting corporate.publix.com/community/good-together.

To donate money, volunteer, or seek help with food, visit https://feedingtampabay.org/.