SIERRA VISTA — Local food banks and nonprofits that provide services for the community’s less fortunate are forced to change how they operate in the wake of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic.
St. Vincent de Paul Society St. Andrew Conference and the Salvation Army Sierra Vista Corps are examples of two nonprofits that continue to provide services despite such impacts as an increase in demand, dwindling resources and changes in how they operate.
St. Vincent de Paul
“One of the greatest challenges at our office and food bank is figuring out how to keep our society members, volunteers and the friends that come see us safe while we deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” said Diane McDaniel, president of the local St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“We’ve taken steps to do that, while educating the community about preventative guidelines as we continue to provide services.”
Food Bank — With a distribution of about 1,100 food boxes every month for families and individuals, the St. Vincent de Paul food bank, located at 616 Bartow Drive, is still providing food, despite dwindling supplies.
“We’ve also reached out to Peach’s Pantry and Good Neighbor Alliance (homeless shelter) to see if they need help with food requests. We want to help them as much as possible during this corona crisis,” said McDaniel, who is predicting a domino effect as the demand increases.
“With public schools closed and a downturn in business across the country, there’s no doubt this crisis is going to get worse before it gets better,” she said.
Like most nonprofits, the food bank survives on donations.
Some of the more popular food items include ramen noodles, canned fruit, canned chili with meat, beans and bread, McDaniel said.
“Grocery stores are experiencing shortages of these items, which trickles down to what we’re able to stock for our food boxes,” she said. “It’s a big concern because we have no way of gauging how long this is going to last.”
Grocery stores are experiencing empty shelves and long lines, as they struggle with demand issues.
Food Bank Director Stan Garner spoke of a change in the facility’s distribution process.
“With concerns about this virus, our food boxes are packed for families, then taken outside on a cart for distribution, which reflects a change in how we do things,” Garner said. “No one comes inside the building, due to the social distancing recommendations.”
Garner said the food bank’s demand is “steadily increasing,” especially when it comes to families with school-age children.
“Now that schools are closed, we’re stocking the food boxes with extra peanut butter, jelly, ramen and tuna, while supplies last. Currently, we have a two- or three-week supply of food on hand, but that’s based on our estimated demand.”
Bread donations have dropped off substantially, which is another concern.
“We welcome all food donations, but it must be non-expired food,” said Garner, who urges donors to check expiration dates before donating. “We are required to throw all expired food away.”
While non-perishable food products are typically what people donate, the food bank also could use fresh fruits and vegetables, he said.
St. Vincent general services — “St. Vincent de Paul provides a wide range of emergency services,” McDaniel said. “We help with utilities by preventing disconnects for about a 100 households a month, help with medicine copays and provide bus passes.”
The local St. Vincent de Paul society also reaches out to the homeless community by providing a number of items, depending on the individual’s needs, McDaniel added.
People who come to the organization for assistance must go through an intake process, typically in one of four offices located in a building adjacent to the food bank.
Intakes are now conducted outside on tables that have been set up for that purpose.
“This is another big change in how we do things,” McDaniel said. “Our office manager is Blanca Velasquez-Cordova, and she does a great job of greeting people and obtaining the intake information necessary for our volunteers to provide services.”
McDaniel said because of privacy concerns, these intakes are typically done in an office one-on-one.
“Our goal is to treat each individual with dignity and integrity because we understand that it’s often very difficult for people to ask for help. Working to maintain the person’s privacy while getting the information we need to provide the services they’re requesting is an important balancing act.”
St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store — Representing a huge income resource for the community’s needy citizens, the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store is still up and running and open to the public.
Located at 220 E. Meyer Drive in Sierra Vista, store hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The thrift store serves as a source for clothing, furniture and household goods for people who have turned to St. Vincent de Paul for assistance.
“With the coronavirus, our traffic has dropped off dramatically in recent weeks, and we’ve been forced to shorten our hours,” McDaniel said. “Customers just aren’t coming in. We need customers to keep coming in to shop, and we need donations. We pick up furniture, appliances and other large items, so call the thrift store at 458-0870 to make arrangements for a pick up.”
In keeping with the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, the local Salvation Army has shifted its communal lunch program from a group dining setting in the facility’s cafeteria to packaging individual lunches and distributing them at the door.
“Social distancing, frequent hand-washing and thorough sanitizing measures are steps the CDC is recommending for everyone right now, and we take those recommendations seriously,” said Captain Gildete Souza of the Salvation Army Sierra Vista Corps. “Because of the concerns about coronavirus exposure, we want to protect the people who come here for our lunches as well as the volunteers who prepare the food. So, closing the cafeteria to large crowds until all this settles down is the best solution for everyone’s safety.”
The Salvation Army serves between 75 and 120 lunches five days a week.With the state’s mandate to close public schools through April 10, Souza said they are bracing for a potential uptake in the number of lunches they serve during those closures.
“We’re watching our numbers over the next few days to see what they are like now that schools are closed,” she said. “We want to see how this is affecting the whole family.”
Community volunteers and organizations prepare the lunches in the Salvation Army’s kitchen, which are served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
While lunches are no longer available inside the building, the Salvation Army office is still open and people are still being provided services.
“Our biggest change in all this is how we’re providing the lunches,” Souza said.
“In spite of this terrible health crisis, our volunteers have been amazing. We are so grateful to all the community volunteers who support our lunch and other programs.”
Terry Hairston and Toni Lopez are volunteer cooks who prepare the lunches on a regular basis.
“I love coming here and doing this,” Hairston said. “We’re here to serve our community and are so glad that we can continue to provide free lunches for the people who need them. It’s very rewarding work.”