WARSAW – It’s bitter.
If you run a soup kitchen, you can’t wait to help other people. But with the arrival of the COVID-19 outbreak locally in March 2020, the number of people seeking help has increased dramatically.
Family. Retired. The people suddenly find themselves unemployed and struggling amidst statewide closures and isolation orders.
One year later, the numbers began to decrease slightly in some areas. And the kitchen has the opportunity to reflect on that experience.
“This is one of those bittersweet things that you don’t need to know that this type of service is being used in an increasing way … This is one of the things we are happy to provide to the community, but when it is used up, it means food insecurity is gone. exhausted, ”said Pastor Katrina Macaluso of the United Church of Warsaw. “As a pastor it’s not something you feel good about. We are happy to be of service to society, but it pains us to know that there is a need. “
The Warsaw Unity Church has offered durable soup kitchens for about 30 years. This is a fully stocked operation located downstairs, staffed by a large group of dedicated volunteers.
It saw a sudden spike in demand after the pandemic hit.
“Our numbers have indeed increased,” said Cindy Kiel, director of the pantry. “It was a bit scary at first, right when COVID hit and everything was closed, because at that time, we had about 36 cans of vegetables on our shelves.
“We have other food too, but with canned vegetables there are only about 36,” he continued. “And with the supply chain, we’re limited in what we can buy in the store and what FoodLink provides us with.”
So the church and its kitchen issued a plea via social media and other churches detailing emergency needs – asking people to go to the store and buy two cans of vegetables to help replenish supplies.
“This got us started again, so that our shelves had more stuff,” he said. “Foodlink can also get some supplies, and we can order from Foodlink.”
Use of soup kitchens tends to fluctuate depending on what people need, says Kiel. The Warsaw United Church has served about 400 people every month since March 2020.
The church’s food kitchen has also served 154 new families during the 12-month period from March to March.
The actual number decreased in February but demand is still there.
“The numbers have gone down, and I think there are several variables,” said Kiel. “Foodlink and the Wyoming County Department of Health work well together to have soup kitchens held once a week in Arcade, Perry, Warsaw, and Attica.”
The expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has also helped reduce demand, along with federal stimulus checks, and people returning to work when the economy reopens.
A similar situation exists in other food kitchens throughout the GLOW area.
Faith Smith, volunteer director of Community Kitchen at Christ Church in Albion, says the normal annual share is around 8,000 to 9,000 meals, but for the whole of 2020 they do more than 19,000 meals and bags. During the pandemic, he served ready meals from parking lots, as well as offering bags of whatever people needed.
“There are nights we run out of food and people wait 40 minutes just to cook more food,” says Smith.
With the coronavirus pandemic underway, it’s also been a busy year for the Geneseo-Groveland Food Pantry.
“It was tough at first when the supply chain was a little crazy,” said manager Deb MacLean.
From canned food to household goods, the necessities are there but getting the products to people who need them, he said, was a bit difficult at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
“Between Foodlink and Wegmans – they really helped us as far as helping us get the things we needed,” said MacLean.
Across the area, Foodlink is helping with contactless food distribution distributing 25 pound boxes of food to people in need. Initially, pre-registration was necessary, but later, as the pandemic continued, it developed into a first-come, first-come, distribution. With cars stopping at different places, as the volunteers climbed in to load food boxes in their luggage.
For MacLean and his staff, the pandemic has also changed the way pantry is fed.
“It doesn’t seem to change what people need,” he said. “When we’re open to a client’s preferred model, that’s where people can come in and choose what they want, they have a wider choice of non-food items like toilet products or laundry soap.”
With a pandemic, people can’t do that, said MacLean. Instead, they had to drive and get their pre-packaged food bags.
The staff at the Avon Food Pantry have also had to change the way they are fed.
“Our kitchens are the client’s choice and are set up like supermarkets,” said Director Jennifer Palmer. “With a pandemic, we have to change it and they have to call first to get packaged food. We’ll ask them over the phone what they want, while still giving them the choice and then deliver the food to the client. “
That’s something, the staff said, has worked well, even though they admit they miss the things they used to be.
“We hope to reopen because there is nothing better than seeing people come and get the food they need according to their diet,” Palmer said.
Apart from delivering food to clients, the staff also have a community distribution outside and sometimes serve more than 300 families.
“We get a lot of donations from the community,” said Palmer. “The local farmers have contributed so much.”
Service has also improved at the Geneseo-Groveland Food Pantry.
“We are up 35 percent for the year for the number of households and 31 percent for the number of individuals,” said MacLean.
Community support has been key.
The Warsaw United Church Pantry prides itself on treating everyone with dignity and respect, said Kiel. During the crisis, he encountered people who commented that they usually donated to soup kitchens and never expected them to need to use them themselves.
“That’s for various reasons too,” he said. “We are seeing an increase in the number of elderly people who come to soup kitchens. I think part of it is they may have eaten with their families and belongings and (now) their families are moving away from them. “
In other cases, parents lose their jobs, or children suddenly lose access to school meals.
Demand for home delivery has also increased – Kiel and Macaluso said they were lucky the kitchen was able to stay open during the crisis.
Pantry modified its operations to carry multiple items up for distance and security protocols, Kiel said. It also updates its order form daily, so people have several choices among healthy products.
Pantry also received support when the news spread on social media, including from outside the region.
“We were very blessed with money and gift cards and food donations,” said Kiel. “They come almost every day. We really appreciate that. “
And although the situation has improved somewhat, the need remains – as in the Community Kitchen in Christ Church.
“The soup kitchen is still badly needed, but we don’t serve 400 meals a week,” Smith said. We eat out about 150 times a week. But we still offer extra items if someone arrives or needs something. “
He said Community Kitchen is not funded by anyone nor is it part of Foodlink or any other organization, even though they do get a United Way food grant once a year. In addition, they rely on donations from the community.
Smith said if it weren’t for community support, they could never have remained open.
So the food pantry and its volunteers continue to provide in the era of the ongoing pandemic.
“We are a team and we are very proud to help those in need,” said Kiel.
(Includes reporting by Brendan McDonough, Matt Surtel and Mallory Diefenbach.)