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Food Pantry adapts to COVID-19

By James Kinneen

Hometown Weekly Reporter

With restaurants going to takeout only, grocery stores putting up shields of plastic to protect their employees from customers, and pharmacies placing tape on the ground to make sure people in line stand six feet away from each other, signs of how the coronavirus crisis has changed standard operating procedure are everywhere. 

Unsurprisingly, the Wellesley Food Pantry has had to adapt its own operation as well, in fear of virus transmission.

Before the virus, the pantry operated much like a small grocery store. People would enter the hallway, take a number, and wait until a volunteer came out and brought them into the pantry to shop. That system would result in too much close-quarters contact now, so as Wellesley Food Pantry President Peter Lull explained, the shopping system has been completely revamped.

“We’re trying to limit the number of people that are in the pantry itself. So what we’re doing now is having people wait out in a giant assembly hall in the basement of the Hills Church. They fill out a shopping list, and the volunteers go and fulfill the order, then bring them back the bag. We’re offering more home deliveries now, as well, for people that can’t make it in or might be more vulnerable - which, obviously, a fair amount of our population is. About a third of our clients are seniors, so in recognition of that issue, we’re offering more home deliveries.”

The process through which food gets to the pantry has also changed. People used to bring food directly to the pantry, but there are now bins by the west door of the church, Monday mornings from 8:30 to 10:30. And because the home deliveries are using so many bags, the pantry would love to see more bag donations. For safety, the bags are quarantined for a week (per the health department’s recommendation) after being donated.

Lull noted that the pantry has seen an uptick in clients recently, after seeing a decline the last couple of years. Many of those clients are people that stopped coming to the pantry, but have had to return because of the recent economic downturn. Fortunately, the pantry has also seen an increasing number of donations during this trying time to balance out the equation.

“We expect that we’re going to continue to see an increase in both new and former clients that have been on a hiatus. Obviously, the situation has changed pretty dramatically, and we’d expect those numbers to rise, but we’ve also been fortunate in that people are very conscientious and generous to the pantry and our contributions are on the rise. It’s great that we have such community support. We’re in a pretty good spot at this point, but again, we’re not a daily food pantry. We’re only open one day a week, so our mission is to be a supplemental source and help people make sure they can minimize food insecurity.”

Lull mentioned that the number of people offering to volunteer has risen as well, which helped with the increasing demand for home deliveries. However, if you want to help the pantry, there's a specific wish list of items they’d like to see donated - it’s available on their website. It’s not that they don’t appreciate people wanting to donate, it’s just that they have a much more streamlined approach, given the new social distancing rules of the pantry, and the increased stress these rules are placing on it.

“One thing I’d like to emphasize is that we would like donations for the specific items that we’ve listed on our website. Because of the way things are happening right now, we don’t have a lot of time to sort and store other items. So, we’re trying to keep it focused on what the immediate needs are and what the requests are. We don’t want to stock up on a whole lot of things we don’t need, because with fewer volunteers sorting, it takes longer. We’re making sure what we’re getting in is targeting what our needs are, to be most efficient on our end.”

For further and updated information on the Wellesley Food Pantry, visit www.wellesleyfoodpantry.org.

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