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Local food pantries push through the pandemic

The year 2020 has required a lot of changes and has had a large impact on businesses, organizations, schools and individuals. But as the year has gone by, people have found ways to adapt and continue to work, serve and help others.

The local food pantries are among those organizations that have continually been there for those who were in need this year. Back in March, when the area was first shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pantries struggled with trying to handle new rules and regulations to try to keep people safe, keeping their shelves filled with enough food to feed the families of those out of work, and their pocketbooks lined with enough funds to keep the lights on and the freezers running.

Now, with several months of pandemic experience under their belts, the volunteers working at the Loyal, Greenwood and Spencer food pantries said things have begun to return to a more normal routine. They have systems in place to protect people coming in, and donations have continued to come in.

“We’re doing pretty good,” said Janette Schultz of the Greenwood Food Pantry. “We are trying to keep everyone safe and healthy … there’s still a struggle, but it’s not as bad as when we first started.”

Each food pantry has slightly different policies in place to keep people safe as they get the food they need. In Greenwood and Spencer, they are letting limited numbers enter their pantry doors to choose the food they need, while in Loyal, people are receiving pre-packaged bags of items for them to take home and use. All are continuing to use masks, sanitation and social distancing measures while employing their different tactics.

“They come in through this door, and sign their name,” said Cherilyn Hare of the Loyal Food Pantry. “We then push a cart of food out to them. There hasn’t been much complaint with people. We are all wearing masks and staying distanced from each other.”

Even though they are doing their best to keep both themselves and the people they serve safe, the pantries have not been immune to both concerns about the virus and the COVID-19 virus itself. In Loyal and Greenwood’s pantries, there have been no cases among the volunteers yet, but they have been working to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

“There are days that I wonder, ‘Should I be here too?’” said Hare. “But I think we got it safe enough. We sanitize the carts all the time, we’re careful. We hope that if they are sick they won’t come in here, but most of them are wearing a mask. (If one of us gets it) We will have to call (their food suppliers). They would have to be informed. If one of us gets COVID, they will probably tell us to close.”

“I know I have taken steps to train another person to order food to help out in case something happens,” said Schultz on the same subject. “I don’t know if it will come to that (having to close). We have had a lot of people volunteer, so we could probably ask for their help if it is needed.”

At the Spencer Food Pantry, such a situation is no longer hypothetical. Joyce Abegglen, one of the volunteers at the pantry, said there have been a few cases of the virus among some of the volunteers during the past several months. Thankfully, she said the volunteers were able to quarantine and let others fill in their spots in order to keep the pantry open.

“We have actually had a few cases among our volunteers,” she said. “Other people stepped up to take their place. If they had COVID, they stayed away so they could not spread it. That was something that we were able to do and had enough volunteers to take their place.”

Besides getting the help they need from volunteers, Hare, Schultz and Abegglen said the pantries have all been getting help from the community at large with donations of both food and money to help keep them running. This, they said, is different than the situation back in March where donations were greatly reduced.

“We have been getting a lot of milk from the FFA, some things from other food

“We’re serving more people all the time. We’ve got lot of new customers this year, and we are open to all people in need of food. We have enough to give to everyone.” -- Cherilyn Hare, Loyal Food Pantry pantries when their freezers are full,” said Schultz. “We have had a lot of donations from businesses.”

“It’s been very wonderful,” added Abegglen. “We have got lots of donations, everyone has been so generous. We had some very generous families in Spencer. Lately, this has been helping up to 20 families per month. It just picked up in the last two months.”

The uptick in traffic to the food pantry is something that Hare, Schultz and Abegglen said they have gotten somewhat used to in the past few months. The holidays are always a time of increased traffic to the food pantry, and with this year already seeing higher numbers of families in need, they have been doing everything that they can to make sure everyone that comes to the pantry leaves with enough food.

“We’re serving more people all the time,” said Hare. “We’ve got lot of new customers this year, and we are open to all people in need of food. We have enough to give to everyone.”

For the volunteers at the pantry, getting people who are in need to come is one of the most important things that they can do. With families out there still struggling with the basics, they said it is important for them to know that there are places that can help them get food so they can focus their attention on their other needs.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize they can come down here and get food,” said Hare. “We always tell people take care of your bills first and come down to get food. We can help them with that.”

The Loyal Food Pantry is open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m., Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. The Greenwood Food Pantry is open on the first and third Wednesday of the every month from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. and the Spencer Food Pantry is open on Mondays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.