With increased economic stress due to measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19, area food banks want to ensure local residents and families in need have enough to eat.
But food banks and feeding programs can no longer serve residents in large dining rooms or even entertain a flow of recipients at their food pantry doors.
“We are trying to keep up with the changing environment to keep people safe and to get resources out to folks in need,” said Heidi Suhrheinrich, Paducah Cooperative Ministry executive director.
Her organization served its last walk-in recipients Thursday, for the time being, and is closed today for restructuring before its planned reopening next week.
“We’re looking for a unified, streamlined response that is efficient and makes sense and is safe,” Suhrheinrich said.
With that in mind, PCM is partnering with other local charities and government agencies to develop a process that will keep at-risk members of society fed and provided with some financial assistance.
Suhrheinrich said the details haven’t all been worked out, but she expects to take most applications over the phone then distribute via either a drive-up or delivery system.
Benton First United Methodist Church Pastor David Russell said his church’s food bank has already transitioned to curbside service.
“We have always had something to give people,” Russell said.
Though Russell hasn’t seen a significant increase in requests for assistance since the coronavirus caused shutdowns and layoffs in the area, he has had some applicants note that the virus changed their situations for the worse.
“We’re seeing more people with food insecurity,” he said.
For Russell, the need isn’t currently overwhelming the supply, which the church receives both from other congregations and from government entities like the Purchase Area Development District.
But he said with church services moving to an online format for the time being, donations of groceries and financial gifts could take a hit.
“As long as we keep our revenue stream … we’ll put out something,” he said.
Martha’s Vineyard Director Martha Bell said she has found her supply significantly impacted, considering she gets much of her supply streams from grocery stores.
“If I’m not there, they’re not getting food,” she said of the homebound residents her ministry serves.
Considering many of her usual recipients are older people and many have health conditions, Bell said many are nervous about the possibility of catching the virus.
“I have a lot of people on dialysis and they’re really worried. Some of the veterans that can’t help themselves, they’re nervous.”
Bell said her drivers are doing their best to limit contact with the people they’re delivering to, but sometimes contact is unavoidable.
“Some of the persons we feed are wheelchair bound, homebound, some have no legs. It’s hard for them to pick up a box,” Bell said.
“In a case like that (drivers) go in and take the food wherever they have to, come out, spray themselves down with disinfectant,” Bell said.
Purchase Area Development District Executive Director Jeremy Buchanan said that though he’s noticed changes in the supply, the situation for the time being appears stable.
“We have pretty much maintained business as usual,” he said.
While numbers for February and March have not been completed, Buchanan said in January that PADD distributed more than 40,000 pounds more food than in January 2019.
Buchanan said he’s noticed an increase in community organizations interested in helping, which should help with the increased need he anticipates.
For Bell, the situation may worsen, but she doesn’t have any plans to slow down as long as resources last.
“I’ve been really blessed. The people of Paducah have always come through and helped all they can,” she said.
“When I serve out the last can, that’s when I’ll close my door.”