Winnfield native, Jan Shell Beville, was the guest speaker for the meeting of the Winnfield Rotary Club on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Mrs. Beville, a leader of the Winn Community Food Pantry housed in the First Presbyterian Church of Winnfield, was invited to tell Rotarians how the Food Pantry, a private organization supported by many churches, businesses and individuals in our community, continued to operate throughout the lengthy period of COVID-19 closures beginning in March 2020. The food pantry is open to the public on Thursdays of each week from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. for grocery pickups by eligible patrons.
Mrs. Beville said that, when it was learned that the governor had ordered the closure of schools, as well as nonessential businesses and organizations, around March 13, 2020, and imposed social distancing restrictions to guard against the spread of COVID-19, one of the first problems that came to mind was how the food pantry would continue to ensure that people in need in our community were able to get the groceries available from the food pantry. The number of persons allowed in the building had to be limited, and the restrictions initially imposed by the governor included social distancing of at least three feet, hand washing and/or hand sanitizer and gloves. Hand sanitizer was not available, so Mrs. Beville and her neighbor located a recipe for it and made their own. Fortunately, she had some of the required ingredients on hand in her home because they were in short supply in the stores. It was likewise fortunate that First Presbyterian had gloves on hand.
Initially, the patrons of the food pantry still came through the building to get their groceries, with only a few allowed in at a time, and others in line had to wait outside. There was some discomfort surrounding the close contact between patrons and volunteers and the exchange of food pantry cards the first Thursday after the restrictions were imposed, so the following Thursday the procedure was modified to stop using the cards regulating frequency of pickup, and volunteers met the patrons at their cars and brought the groceries to them. Applications for first-time recipients were also eliminated from March 2020 to about March 2021, when the food pantry began to give patrons applications to complete at home and return at the time of next pickup.
Because the method of delivering groceries to each vehicle was more time consuming initially, the hours of operation were enlarged by an extra hour each day—the hours were 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. instead of the usual 12:30 to 2:30. The hours have now been returned back to 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
When a mask mandate was implemented at Easter, Mrs. Betty Zeagler began making masks and providing them to the volunteers at the food pantry. Additionally, disposable masks were made available when supplies became available to the general public. Most of the patrons also wore their own masks.
Immediately after the executive orders issued by the governor imposing restrictions on social contact, there was concern that the food pantry would not have enough volunteers to adequately serve the patrons, but it was soon apparent that concern was unfounded. Some people were able to come to the church when no one else was present to do the work they would normally have done on Thursdays. Furthermore, enough volunteers have been present during open hours on Thursdays to cover every task required for distribution of food. The food pantry has continued to open every Thursday since the closures were implemented in March 2020 with plenty of volunteers to handle everything needed, except in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, when the First Presbyterian was the collection and distribution point for the many items donated to the community during the power outage which followed the storm, and the snow day this past February.
As for funding, Mrs. Beville reported that, by the grace of God, generous monetary donations have continued to come in at levels even higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, both from locals and from people all over the country who grew up here in Winn Parish. Additionally, various community groups have gotten together and made donations of special treat bags for the patrons. She said, all in all, our community food pantry has thrived despite the difficulties confronted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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