Update: F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry will be temporarily stopping operations on April 3 due to coronavirus concerns. Monroe County families are asked to visit Amory Food Pantry, open every Tuesday. Lee County families may visit Saint Luke in Tupelo, open every Thursday. Updates will be available via their Facebook page.
TUPELO • While COVID-19 is forcing some nonprofits to temporarily shut their doors, food pantries in the Northeast Mississippi area are determined to keep providing services for their clients during this time.
The Union County Good Samaritan, F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry, Tippah Good Samaritan and West Itawamba Food Pantry are among local food pantries that have moved to drive-thru only. Volunteers ask clients to stay in their car while they find necessary paperwork, load boxes and put them in their vehicles.
“People need food. It’s a scary thing to not have food, to not have a job,” said Jim Long, director of the F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry in Nettleton.
The F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry distributes its monthly food boxes on the third Saturday of every month, serving more than 900 families this month. They limited service to three to four at a time.
The Union County Good Samaritan in New Albany continues being open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday weekly, with some slight changes. They now ask the public not to enter the facility. Clients pick up their monthly box during the 10-11:45 a.m. window, though volunteers will allow people to come earlier than usual.
While some pantries noted the drive-thru style made distribution take longer, Hitt said Good Samaritan clients appreciated seeing the extra effort to protect their safety.
Some pantries are also feeling the impact of panic-buying at grocery stores. For Union County Good Samaritan, which receives most of its donations from a nearby Wal-Mart Distribution Center, this has led to decreased food donations and forced them to fill the need from other food sources, such as the MidSouth Food Bank and Mississippi Food Network. Hitt said local groups helped them fill the food gap, and they provided families with at least 31 pounds of food items. In a month, they serve 450 to 500 families.
“(In) Union County, there’s just a family-feel here, there’s a sense of community here, and they’re very supportive,” Hitt said. “One of my volunteers developed the Facebook page and we’ve gotten the word out about the things we need, and that’s helped them know what things to donate and what we do need.”
Panic buying also means some lower income people cannot buy food elsewhere, and pantries serve large numbers of senior clients for whom using the pantry eliminates the risk of going shopping.
Pantries are also using fewer volunteers than usual to help combat risks. Tippah Good Samaritan in Ripley asked volunteers to call ahead and schedule times to volunteer rather than just show up. They currently try to have six to seven volunteers at a time in the facility, using masks when available.
Tippah Good Samaritan has distribution every Monday except the fifth Monday and receives food trucks every Thursday. Volunteers usually come in the Saturday before distribution to assist and complete inventory on Tuesday. Director Dianne Holman said they have also had to move to a staggered schedule for volunteers in order to get inventory done with fewer volunteers coming in at a time.
The West Itawamba Food Pantry also hosted its monthly distribution this past Saturday and had volunteers wear gloves and masks while distributing food. They also made use of smaller volunteer numbers, choosing to stick to a core group of volunteers to help box food for distribution.
COVID-19 is already starting to impact how many clients some pantries are serving. Holman said that while Tippah Good Samaritan serves approximately 500 families a month, they have seen an increase over the last two weeks, putting a strain on the limited volunteers. Volunteers have worked outside normal Monday hours of 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. to meet demand, and Holman said they have now begun asking for more money or food donations to help fill the need.
“As long as we can continue to get food in and be able to give it to families that are in need and suffering hardship, whether this is a hardship they were already in versus a new one for so many now, we just feel that we need to be that bridge there in the gap of what (they need),” Holman said.
West Itawamba Food Pantry gave about 20 percent more in food distribution this Monday, Prochaska said. Many clients were people who had been laid off or had family members who were laid off, Prochaska said. While they were able to provide for the extra need thanks to recent local donation drives and help from their United Way grant, she said they might grow beyond serving their usual 260 to 275 people a month.
“We have other folks (individuals) and organizations that donate to us, ... so at this point our food warehouse is taken care of, but it depends on if this lingers for six months. We will probably sing a different tune if it lasts that long,” Prochaska said.
While many pantries are working with smaller numbers, some, due to having older volunteers who are currently unavailable due to COVID-19 concerns, ask for volunteers to help with some more physical tasks. The F.A.I.T.H. Food Pantry seeks volunteers to help with retail food pickup on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week. Volunteers will ride with a truck driver and be assisting with loading and unloading. Interested volunteers can call Jim Long at 401-2958.
Union County Good Samaritan asks for food donations during this time. They can call Hitt at 662-534-0931. Any need for volunteers can be found on their Facebook page, which is updated regularly, Hitt said.
The Tippah County Good Samaritan is asking for monetary or food donations. Donations can be made to P.O. Box 76 Ripley, MS 38663. People can also call and leave a message at 662-512-0031 or visit their Facebook page.