Unemployment numbers have risen sharply due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and area food pantries will likely bear some weight from the job loss.
Several directors of food pantries located in Fulton County say they’ll persist to accommodate those in need as long as the circumstances allow.
Paul Colon, who leads the once-monthly FISH food distribution program at First Christian Church in Wauseon, said the program would be suspended only as a last resort.
“It’s too important to our clients that the help is out there,” he said.
On average, almost 70 individuals and families gather for each distribution, where each recipient is given a pre-packed box of food. The clients normally wait inside the church for their donations, but with the advent of COVID-19 the procedure has changed. Now they wait in the church parking lot and are permitted one at a time to meet a FISH volunteer at the building’s rear entry to collect their food. None of the typical demonstrative thank-yous are permitted.
“We’re keeping contact down to a minimum,” Colon said. “We’re not shaking hands, we’re not hugging, but there are some things you just have to do a certain way. But none of the clients come into the building at all.”
Clients who normally sign up for the countywide food distribution in the church office now do so by calling 419-337-7242.
The food is purchased from the Toledo Northwest Ohio Food Bank in Toledo. There are no safeguards when buying the food, but Colon said he has no real concerns about the purchases being safe from coronavirus.
“But that’s not to say I take anything lightly, either. I think a lot of what we do comes down to trust in folks and a leap of faith,” he said.
Colon said he anticipates an increase in clients during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and said the FISH program will make efforts to meet the additional need.
“I want to be able to provide basic food needs to our folks as long as I can,” he said. “We will continue to do everything we can to meet that need.”
FISH also sponsors two food pantries in Wauseon, one at Christ United Methodist Church, 215 N. Fulton St., and one at Trinity Lutheran Church, 398 S. Shoop Ave. Both are basically for community members living within the Wauseon school district. Both food pantries are stocked by area donors and with church funds reserved for food purchases.
People in need of food can call the churches to arrange for a donation.
Monetary donations to FISH can be mailed to: P.O. Box 363, Wauseon, Ohio 43467.
The monthly food pantry distribution at Holy Trinity Catholic Parish in Assumption will be canceled for April due to Ohio’s social distancing restrictions. Beyond that, Deacon Denver Mossing, who directs the St. Vincent de Paul program at the church, will consider the pantry on a month to month basis.
“With the new restrictions and moving forward we’re looking at that very closely,” Mossing said. All of the food pantry’s 20 volunteers are senior citizens, and “with the concern of their safety during the pandemic…we’re going to judge it month by month,” he said.
Normally, food distribution is held the fourth Wednesday of each month from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Since March the procedure to collect food has changed. People are instructed to stay in their cars but must register for their donation. Once a box is packed by volunteers it is slid through a service door, then carried to the car and placed in the trunk.
Volunteers did not wear protective clothing last month while serving members of the nearly 80 families – an increase – that requested food, but neither did they come in contact with the people, Mossing said.
The donated food is purchased from Seagate Food Bank and Toledo Northwest Ohio Food Bank because a lot of food can be bought with minimal funds. “We’re very careful how we spend the money,” which comes from generous parishioners, Mossing said.
And because of the food sources, there is no concern about contamination.
Mossing realizes that canceling the food distribution next month will affect the people who depend on it, but said they won’t go hungry. “I think there are other sources and other pantries available that they’re going to be able to use,” he said.
Should the decision be made to close the food pantry for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, it would eventually reopen, Mossing said.
“Our organization does great work in helping people,” he added.
Fayette’s Helping Hands organization distributes food the second and fourth Thursday of each month, noon to 4 p.m., at 222 Railroad St., Suite 2. Helping Hands director Dennis Kanfield Jr. said the food donations are distributed to people throughout Fulton County, and have helped some in need from Michigan and Indiana. Clients shop for the available food as they would in a grocery store.
An average of 100 to 150 people show up each designated Thursday, but Kanfield expects those numbers to grow during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been up a little bit,” he said. “But it won’t be a problem. We have a lot of good (volunteers).”
No income verification is necessary but clients are asked to fill out a form concerning basic household information.
To stem the risk of COVID-19 contamination, only five clients are now allowed to shop at one time, and practice six-foot distancing from one another. To alleviate crowded conditions, meat and produce items are kept outside.
Kanfield said he isn’t concerned about the food being contaminated by coronavirus. It is purchased from the Seagate Food Bank and the Toledo Northwest Ohio Food Bank, both in Toledo, and much of the food is already packaged, wrapped or frozen.
Under the right circumstances it’s possible the food pantry could close during the coronavirus pandemic, but Kanfield said it will stay open unless conditions become unsafe.
I hope not, because there are too many people that do need it,” he said. “Especially right now. There aren’t too many places out there that are willing to help for free.”
Delta Community Outreach bases its food pantry at The Open Door, 104 Monroe St. Specifically for community members within the Pike-Delta-York school district, the pantry distributes food Monday through Wednesday from noon to 2 p.m. and Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.
Butch Zimmerman, Delta Community Outreach board president, said procedures have changed since the coronavirus outbreak. Just he and the organization’s vice chairman, Bill Schmidt, are volunteering for the project at this time. They fill requests left at 419-822-4407, designate a time for each caller to pick up their donation, then place a cart with the food in The Open Door’s parking lot, to be loaded into the person’s car. The cart is returned and sanitized.
No one enters the building. “We just have to be very careful right now, with what’s going on,” Zimmerman said.
People receiving donations must initially provide a photo identification and proof of income.
Most of the food donations are provided by private citizens and, due to limited opportunities for refrigeration, consist of non-perishable items. Delta Community Outreach also receives monetary help, and uses the funds to buy from local grocers.
Zimmerman said about 20 to 30 families request donations each month; most have been accepting donations for the past five or six years. “It’s an ongoing project,” he said.
He does expect those numbers to increase during the current pandemic, and hopes the program will be able to accommodate everyone. “We’re pretty limited on our supply of food,” he said.
Should the need during the pandemic strain the food supply or threaten their health, Zimmerman and Schmidt would have to decide whether to shut down the food pantry.
“If it gets as bad as they say it will…it could, yes, (shut down),” he said. “You have to use common sense. I will try everything in my power to help people, but there is a limit. It seems like the Lord provides for us so we’ll do everything in our power to keep it open.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.