Jill Dixon is trying to find another word for “unprecedented.” She has used it too many times during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the word still applies for Dixon and her co-workers at The Food Depot, a regional food bank based in Santa Fe. Hunger relief has never been in such high demand in Northern New Mexico, she said.

Dixon, The Food Depot’s development director, said the organization distributed more than 7.8 million pounds of food from January through September in a nine-county area, easily eclipsing its previous high of 6.5 million pounds in that period. She estimates the organization will hand out about 10 million pounds of food to people in need by the conclusion of 2020 as charities see perhaps their busiest time of the year — the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

November is normally a bustling time for food drives in the community to benefit The Food Depot, but the nonprofit has asked groups to halt such events this year. Since the pandemic reached New Mexico in March, the nonprofit has ceased accepting food donations and contributions of other items such as pet food, diapers, boxes and bags as a safety precaution.

Instead, the organization is asking for financial contributions to help it continue its mission of providing aid to those in need.

Dixon estimates the demand for hunger relief in the state has risen 30 percent amid the pandemic, putting a strain on The Food Bank and other food aid organizations. The demand hasn’t eased eight months into the crisis.

“What we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks is that number is increasing dramatically,” Dixon said.

During a drive-up distribution event Saturday, the food bank served more than 900 households, which Dixon said was the most it has ever served. She believes demand will remain high over the next couple of years as families and individuals struggle with unemployment.

“We’re not even remotely out of the woods,” Dixon said. “We’re in the middle of the forest.”

COVID-19 has forced aid organizations to adapt to a new environment in which safety, social distancing and mask wearing are paramount — and some beloved traditions are no longer possible.

Dolph Bunkley, co-coordinator of the Bag ‘N Hand Food Pantry at St. John’s United Methodist Church, said the pantry must forgo its annual Thanksgiving meal, which has drawn about 350 families to the church in past years. Instead, it will hand out ready-to-prepare meals.

Bunkley anticipates a long line of cars when the pantry distributes meals Nov. 24.

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