Food Pantries Adapt to Stay Safe, Serve More as Need Continues to Grow
(Drew Saunders, March 24, 2020)
Royal Oak, Rochester, Ferndale, Southfield, MI -As the number of those out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak rises, the demand is growing for local food pantries. Not only are pantry volunteers continuing to tackle the endless need to keep provisions coming in and going out, they’re also adjusting their work flows, pantry spaces, and procedures to keep volunteers and recipients safe.
There are numerous food pantries throughout Oakland County, plus other ways to meet needs in tough times in our RESOURCES FOR THOSE IN NEED guide. Here are how a few are faring:
St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak has hosted a food pantry for about 30 years, serving between 12,000 and 14,000 people per year on average. In addition to temporarily suspending in-person worship services, St. Johns has temporarily minimized entrance to their building. Instead of guests coming in, answering questions about how many people they need to feed per family; volunteer staff are gathering what visitors need, and delivering it to their cars.
“What we’ve adjusted to, starting last Saturday, is sort of a drive through operation. They pull into our parking lot and we bring groceries out to them, place them in their trunk and then they’re on their way,”
Reverend Beth Taylor said. “We’re trying to keep both our volunteers safe and the people who are coming to get the food safe by minimizing contact, keeping distance and keeping everybody moving.”
Those in need get a package of cereals, canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, dried beans, rice and other staples, as well as things like feminine hygiene products, diapers and detergent, as long as donations to the pantry keep coming in.
In Rochester, Rochester Hills, Oakland Township, and Auburn Hills, Rochester Area Neighborhood House connects families with food.
“Over 25% of Rochester households are food or income insecure. That means they cannot put enough food on the table, or are one paycheck from disaster. Neighborhood House’s mission is to walk the path toward self-sustainability with our neighbors during times of hardship. But with increases in layoffs and parents out of work food insecurity is on the rise,” said Neighborhood House Director Kathy Losinski.
Neighborhood House is currently taking new clients and is operating the food pantry as normal.
“There has been some confusion after the executive order mandating people suspend all activity not essential to sustain life but people can still come to the food pantry to get supplies,” Losinski said. “We are open normal business hours and are taking new clients.”
The food pantry is open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
“In times like these it is imperative neighbors stand together to support our most vulnerable populations. I often say we have an overabundance of generosity in this community and I am confident that under this pressing need our neighbors will come through,” said Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan K. Barnett.
Currently, financial donations are the best way to help. Financial donations can be made at ranh.org or by mailing a check to Neighborhood House’s main office at 1720 S. Livernois, Rochester Hills MI.
Renaissance Vineyard Church’s food pantry in Ferndale has had a different reaction, with service slowing down, according to Minister Jim Pool.
Their pantry provides twice-monthly pickups of food for about 100 households. Demand has actually gone down according to the Ferndale-based minister, who suggested that his set up was causing his guests to stretch out their food more.
“Personally, I think its people just being cautious and afraid. Some of our people … would be in a risk category. So maybe some of them didn’t feel like they could come out,” Pool said.
They’re preparing for their next food distribution, which happens the first Monday in April, by disinfecting common areas and wearing gloves as precaution.
John Grven, the Director of the Franciscan Outreach Program at the Church of the Transfiguration in Southfield, said his biggest problem is getting the food into the cars of pantry-goers safely. His staff of volunteers are loading food into the trunks of their guests, which is tiring for the mostly senior-citizen volunteer staff, so he is looking for younger volunteers.
“It’s mainly a volunteer problem at this point,” Grven said. Grven added that he is looking for younger volunteers because while his staff can pack the food easily, fitter people are needed to carry the boxes out to the cars.
“Because we are a faith community we are committed to our neighbors. We are committed to caring for those in our community who need us to care for them. That is so much a part of who we are as people in the world, as people of faith. That motivates and animates all of what we do.”
Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.
RESOURCES FOR THOSE IN NEED