Food Pantry Adapts to Continue Service

By Bob Holeman

I mentioned to you that I resumed my weekly “Windows” column for my former readers who, like me, are pretty much locked down with nowhere to go. There’s not much news to hear except for fear-generating tidbits on COVID-19, which ought to be “Wuhan Virus” anyway. So the column is intended to provide a stress-free alternative.

But since my people-interactions are limited, so is the fodder that once fueled the inspirations for my writing. I have a plan as I write today but I must confess that it does touch on the Virus situation. But mine’s a positive spin.

When we heard the dire forecasts of this newest, unknown virus, we were surprisingly willing to comply with our government’s suggestions/demands to close our schools, our churches, our “non-essential” businesses, giving up our right to assemble (except in groups smaller than 10 with 6-foot social spacing).

Basketball disappeared. Baseball disappeared. Graduation as we’ve known it won’t be happening. With so many aspects of the American way of life suddenly shut down until we “flatten the curve,” or until we simply get tired of restrictions that may make sense in New York or New Orleans but not in north Louisiana, it seems like nothing here is business as usual.

Well, let me talk about something that is continuing despite the Virus. Jesus told his disciples “for ye have always the poor with you.” Pandemic or not, we still have folks here who are poor and appreciative of a bag of groceries and a little Lagniappe once a month from our Food Pantry. Volunteers there had to choose between a temporary shutdown of this vital service or figuring out how to continue it while staying within governmental parameters.

I’m happy to say I’ve reinvigorated my involvement with those volunteers. I’ve helped there in the past but sometimes my string of absences was so long that I almost had to introduce myself when I did make an appearance. But I heard that volunteers might be in shortage since many were seniors or have underlying health issues and are staying home. About 45 volunteers normally rotate their days during a month. Now about 10 handle the various chores.

I’m pushing 70. When I was a teen, the age of 70 sounded like folks who’d soon be customers at Southern Funeral Home. Now it feels pretty young. I have no health issues that I know and there’s little on my social calendar. So why not volunteer? It gives me something worthwhile to do each week.

It’s an amazing operation of compassion. Hatched by a Sunday School class at First Presbyterian Church in the mid-1980s, it grew to serve some 300 households monthly, with recipients getting a bag of groceries and some extra items of their own choice on their allocated week. Numbers are down a little these days as the parish population dwindles.

Nor is it a Presbyterians-only program, though still runs out of First Presbyterian Church each Thursday. It is ecumenical, with cooperation by volunteers from many churches across Winn.
I drove up on my first day back and parked out of the way, over by the slab that used to be Brister’s Furniture. It was early, since the Food Pantry didn’t usually open its doors until 12:30. But volunteers with gloves and masks were already loading groceries into cars where patrons were treated to curbside delivery.

I say “masks.” Mine was a folded bandana held in place by hair bands. (Diane and I later got a nifty matching set made by our daughter-in-law). Others had medical-looking masks. Our fashion winner sports a chic silk scarf wrapped and draped quite stylishly. Note that a week or two later, the gloves disappeared when government decided they weren’t a good idea after all.

When I arrived, I had to find my role. Everyone has their job. Several seniors who won’t say “No” work in the back, mostly alone in their quiet areas, filling more grocery bags and tracking the day’s recipients. Other volunteers create more Lagniappe bags, with more extra goodies than ever before because of the largess of donors, some now living in other parts of the country who have found this way to support their home community during this time of isolation.

Outside, volunteers sit in folding chairs, appropriately spaced near the shade of the small tree in the yard. When someone parks at the curb, a lady with a clipboard gets their name and address, glances at their Food Pantry ID if they are regulars, then relays that information to the back office. Meanwhile, another volunteer has brought a box of groceries and Lagniappe to unload in the back seat. No handshakes, no unmasked conversations.

The tote box (heavy cardboard with handles) is whisked back in for refilling by yet another team. All goes like clockwork. I carried several boxes but think I found my niche breaking down and flattening discarded grocery boxes that otherwise piled up in the hall.

Call this a well-oiled machine with many vital cogs. One of those cogs is Jan Beville whom I asked about the adaptations made to continue service during a national time of uncertainty. “We started each Thursday with prayer,” she replied. “We still do, just without holding hands. Since our volunteer numbers are fewer, we’re not so close either, in the prayer circle or in our work space.

“It’s amazing. Because of the additional community support we’re receiving during this COVID period, we’re able be more extravagant in what we give to each household. We’re not requiring preregistration like normal or enforcing our once-a-month policy so much. We know some have come more frequently but none will be denied during this time.”

The Food Pantry accepts donations of all types—canned goods and other grocery items, large paper bags, plastic grocery bags and of course, money. Checks can be made payable to Community Food Pantry and mailed to PO Box 302, Winnfield, LA 71483. Anyone who would like to volunteer at the Food Pantry can contact Jan Beville at 318 663 8273.

When you see people at the church with masks, they’re not holding up. They’re holding out…groceries for those who need a little extra help.

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