Food Pantries Adjust to COVID-19 Precautions & Shortages

JEFFERSON CO., Pa., (EYT) – As Pennsylvania remains under orders that all businesses considered non-life sustaining remain closed except for carryout or delivery service, the state’s food pantries are working to help residents who find themselves out of work.

(Photo courtesy Brookville Area Food Pantry Facebook page.)

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding wants Pennsylvanians to return to their regular shopping habits to allow the supply chain to recover and allow enough essentials for all.

He said over-purchasing impacts the food system, particularly the charitable food system that’s currently working overtime to meet increased demands as thousands of Pennsylvanians are finding themselves out of work as a result of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Local food pantries associated with Feeding Pennsylvania report they are still getting regular supplies of food. Independent food pantries are having a harder time.

At the Brookville Area Food Pantry, a process incorporating precautions put in place due to COVID-19 is running well, according to manager Ed Pearce.

“We are only allowing one person into the building at a time,” Pearce stated. “They get a number and go back out to their car.”

When a volunteer calls that number, the resident pulls his/or her car up to the building, and volunteers wearing gloves and masks place the items in the trunk of the vehicle.

While the food pantry currently serves about 170 families per week, Pearce said they expect those numbers to climb in the coming weeks. However, that hasn’t happened yet.

Food is distributed every Thursday, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and again from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

“Our food supply is really good right now, so we’re good that way,” he said.

However, things like bread and eggs are currently a little harder to get.

Pearce said the food pantry is limiting the number of volunteers on duty, wiping down surfaces, and making sure to keep the recommended six feet between volunteers who all wear masks and gloves.

Customers who enter the building use hand sanitizer and stay six feet away from volunteers as they get their number and return to their car to wait their turn.

Residents who find themselves in need can call the food pantry at 814-849-0818 to see if they meet eligibility guidelines.

“They can just show up at the food pantry, and we will see if they qualify, if they do, we will go ahead and take care of them,” Pearce said.

Those who are from out of the pantry’s service area will be given a courtesy box and then referred to locations in either Reynoldsville or Punxsutawney.

While the food pantry requires customers to meet income guidelines, they realize some may need temporary help.

“If they’re laid off, and they need us, we are going to help them out,” Pearce added.

In Clarion, the First United Methodist Church suspended its weekly distribution of dinner meals, previously known as Food for Friends, due to safety concerns for both recipients and volunteers.

On the third Wednesday of every month, the church provides food to those who meet income guidelines from its food pantry called the Love Cupboard. They currently plan to continue that service.

Last month, volunteers wore masks and gloves as they handed out food to more people than usual. Right now, they’re reevaluating the distribution process.

“At this point, we’re still planning to distribute food, but we don’t know how yet,” said volunteer Howard Rhoades. “We know that with all of the conditions that are going on and the safety concerns, we have to totally change what we’re doing.

“Distancing and being a possible carrier to people coming in is a major issue with us. We may also be addressing somebody who is a carrier, and we really are going to look at the safety of the people here at the church.”

Distribution of food is the concern at this point. The church is still able to receive food from Second Harvest Food Bank in Erie.

The church saw a slight uptick in the number of people it served during last month’s distribution, though not as much as expected.

“We got an order last week, and the supply is healthy,” Rhoades explained. “In fact, we got more variety this last week than we normally do, so that is not a problem. It’s distributing it safely that is our concern.”

The following food pantries served by the Second Harvest Food Bank have closed due to COVID-19:

– Knox Food Pantry
– Cross Town Food Pantry, Punxsutawney
– Gateway Tower Apartments, DuBois
– Gray Foundation,DuBois

If you are affected by these cancellations and in need of food, Second Harvest recommends you call the food line phone number at 814-459-3663, extension 117. An agency relations representative will return your call as soon as possible with alternative options.

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