Thursday, April 16th, 2020

Food bank friends

Pantries are stressed but still helpful

By Leslie Gartrell

Christina Hall carries a box of groceries to a client on Wednesday afternoon at. . .

Local food banks are responding to increased demand with limited resources as the coronavirus pandemic continues across the U.S.
CALL Ministries executive director Homer Burnett said the Celina nonprofit has had to drastically reduce its services. While CALL usually offers eight services such as a clothing pantry and weekly hot meal program, the ministry has had to shutter all but the food pantry, which has had its hours slashed.
While the pantry would usually be open seven hours a day for clients to come inside and select items, it is open for only two hours and clients pick up their food via a drive-thru process.
Burnett said he's seen a slight increase in the number of people using the food pantry. CALL usually serves about 500-600 families a month, who are all clients of the ministry. However, as many people throughout Mercer County have found themselves recently jobless or financially vulnerable, CALL is no longer requiring participants to be clients. Burnett said he estimates about 8% of people now using the food pantry are not clients.
While Burnett said the pantry has a decent reserve of food, officials have already had to dip into their reserve funds to buy items they get locally, such as bread and milk.
"We don't really lack for food, but we are experiencing a drain in our funding," Burnett said. "Now it seems we have an even greater need."
Patti Hamilton, executive director of Agape Ministries in St. Marys, said the nonprofit usually serves 20-25 clients a week at its food bank. That number has tripled over the past month to 60-65 clients weekly
The ministry has increased the frequency of its senior box program, which provides food boxes to homebound seniors, she said. The boxes, which are usually delivered monthly, are being delivered weekly. The thrift store closed in mid-March.
Agape, which serves residents of Minster, New Bremen, New Knoxville and St. Marys, has been able to meet demand by shortening payroll hours for some workers and receiving generous donations from the community.
Dannon Co. recently donated two palettes of yogurt, which Hamilton said is a luxury item that is hard to acquire in food pantries. Cargill Inc. donated $2,500, which will be matched, and always donated dog and cat food for families with pets. Local beef and pork producers have also donated meat, which the pantry stores in freezers.
"Our communities are extremely generous and have been helping us stay afloat through their donations," Hamilton said.
Like CALL, Agape has changed its criteria for accepting new clients. Income is not verified, but people who need assistance must bring a photo ID and proof of residency for everyone living in the same household 18 years old or older, dated within the last 30 days.
Clients can get items from the food bank every 30 days, and the amount of supplies depends upon family size, Hamilton said. Boxes of food, cleaning supplies and other items are taken to clients in the Agape Ministries parking lot.
Agape Ministries is one of the few pantries that has seen an increase in monetary and material donations as demand continues to increase.
In Celina, Our Home Family Resource Center's food pantry has seen a lot of new clients, according to Edna Backs, direct services program coordinator. Food pantry workers are doing their best to streamline donations, Backs said.
Our Home also supports people through utility shutoff assistance, rent eviction assistance and personal-care supplies.
CALL, Agape and Our Home officials all noted the need for monetary donations. Burnett said CALL has been leery of physical donations because they want to avoid contamination and limit the risk to volunteers.
Backs and Burnett noted monetary donations are preferred because they can purchase food at a discounted rate from suppliers such as the West Ohio Food Bank. Burnett said CALL can purchase $2.40 worth of goods for every $1 a person donates.
CALL food pantry is open for drive-thru pickup from noon-2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Agape Ministries food pantry is open noon-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and Our Home's food pantry hours are 9:30 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
People can contact CALL Ministries at 419-586-3574, Agape Ministries at 419-394-8700 and Our Home at 419-586-4663 to learn how to get assistance or donate.
Additional online story on this date
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