Food pantries weather viral storm

BRIAN QUINN/DAILY NEWSVolunteer Mary Olix loads food into a vehicle at The Salvation Army on East Main Street.

Whether food pantries are serving more people almost three months into the COVID-19 pandemic than they were before depends on whom you ask.

Salvation Army Operations Manager and Coordinator of Emergency Disaster Services Todd Rapp said a typical month for the Army means serving about 25 to 30 families.

“Currently, we’re doing about 50 families every day that we’re open,” he said. “We’re seeing 600 to 800 families a month right now for food assistance.”

Donations may be dropped off at the rear of the 529 E. Main St. location in Batavia (directly across from Tully’s). Donations are accepted Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m.– 12:30 p.m. Those who need food assistance may stop by during those hours.

“The people are not back to work yet and even when they do go back to work, there’s still bills that have to be paid,” Rapp said last week. “We still have a significant number of the population who are simply afraid to go to the store. Those who are in that at-risk category are having a hard time finding what they need.

“Right now, we have a significant need for canned fruit. We need ready-to-prepare meals like the Hamburger Helper, the Tuna Helper .., Beans are always a need — pretty much any shelf-stable food items,” he said.

Rapp said the Salvation Army acknowledges the overwhelming support of the Genesee County community in the effort to provide food for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The gymnasium has been converted to the emergency operations center. Staff and volunteers prepack boxes and bring them out and place them directly into vehicles.

“It is our community that makes all this possible. Whether it is fresh produce, frozen meat, milk, eggs, personal hygiene products or canned goods it has all come from our community,” he said.

The Salvation Army, through a partnership with FoodLink we secured a new national source for food banks. Beginning today, The Salvation Army, in partnership with Northgate Church will host an all-new mobile pantry program. As a part of this program each household will receive three boxes. One dairy, one meat and one produce. Each box will contain up to 25 pounds of food. Because of the quantity of food being given out pick up will be strictly limited to one per vehicle. Unfortunately picking up for others will no longer be possible. Be sure to clear out your trunk/hatch prior to arrival. Volunteers are not permitted to touch your belongings. You are also reminded that there should only be one person per vehicle.

At Community Action of Orleans & Genesee, the number of families served in a month is down at the Genesee County Main Office, 5073 Clinton Street Rd., in Batavia, Community Action Emergency Services Coordinator Lisa Wittmeyer said. She said Community Action is required to keep data on families it serve — demographics such as number of households served; number of people in the household; number of children, adults and the elderly, addresses, etc.

“We’re required to keep monthly reports for our food provider as well as the state,” she said. “Numbers have been down quite a bit and I think it’s due to all the mobile food pantries out there, where people can go and just write their name. We need to account for our masses and population. I have to be accountable for all this too.”

The fact that the Genesee County Main Office is open two days a week has something to do with it as well.

“Normally we serve 85 families a month. Usually the summer is higher because kids are out of school,” Wittmeyer said. Community Action Emergency Services Coordinator Lisa Wittmeyer said it’s a scary time.

“We took a couple of weeks off at the very beginning because we really didn’t know what was happening. We’re still learning about COVID-19,” she said.

These days, Community Action is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We are still ready and willing to give out food and personal care items to those in need. We require people to call first. We do want your information — your name, your address, the number of people in your household,” Wittmeyer said. “We need all that for data collection so we can prove to the state that we’re serving the population that we’re being funded to serve.”

Wittmeyer said Community Action will not turn anyone in need away, but added, “If they have been served by The Salvation Army food pantry, they’re not supposed to come here as well because it’s a duplication of service.”

Those who come to Community Action in Batavia are asked to wear a mask.

“We’ll get their box ready and they’re going to ring the doorbell and we’ll push the food out the door on a cart,” she said. Community Action doesn’t interact with the public face to face at this time, she said.

In Orleans County, Community Action is feeding lots of people, said Director of Community Services Annette Finch. Locations include the Orleans County Main Office, 409 E. State St., Albion; and the Eastern Orleans Community Center, 75 Public Square, Holley.

“We’re doing distributions that are supplied by FoodLink every Friday. We’ve done up to 2,000 grab-and-go meals at our Holley Community Center. We also have gift cards available for people who might need, eggs milk diapers, things we cannot provide through the food pantry,” Finch said. “We’re doing Holley, Albion and Batavia. Holley we do both — grab and go meals and food boxes, Albion we do food boxes and Batavia we do food boxes.

“We will not let any family or child go hungry,” she said.

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