SILER CITY — As county residents descended on grocery stores, clearing shelves in response to COVID-19, the West Chatham Food Pantry is facing the challenge of obtaining food to provide for the …
Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to the News + Record – you can do so by clicking here.
SILER CITY — As county residents descended on grocery stores, clearing shelves in response to COVID-19, the West Chatham Food Pantry is facing the challenge of obtaining food to provide for the most vulnerable residents of Siler City and the western part of the county.
The non-profit agency typically serves about 600 families each month, but the demand for help from its clients increased substantially in March, according to Diane Smith, the organization’s executive director.
“We have been receiving more clients, in particular people we had never served before,” Smith said.
The West Chatham Food Pantry provides supplemental food to qualifying Chatham County residents. The non-profit determines if someone qualifies based on proof of residency, income and expense information and creates pre-prepared packages based on family size. Those who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, automatically qualify.
The organization also participates in the Fuel Up Program, where back packs of food are delivered to students in need through their schools. According to Lou Giovenco, Vice President of the West Chatham Food Pantry and the organizer for the program, volunteers from Piney Grove Church, Chatham Trades, homeschooled students and volunteers from the community assist on rotating weeks.
The backpacks include nutritious breakfast, lunch and dinner for a student for the weekend. The supplemental packs are geared toward children — pop-top caps and foods that are easy to handle and cook. They were delivered to schools in Chatham County each Wednesday and the schools would distribute them by Friday.
With the closure of the schools, Giovenco partnered again with the Chatham County School system which has been delivering breakfast and lunch using buses. Though the Fuel Up Program is something that includes a process for qualification, Giovenco has asked the bus drivers to simply give a back pack to any child.
"If you see a kid, give them a pack," Giovenco said. "If they are there to get food, they need those packs."
Smith said the organization is trying not to turn anyone away, but since a majority of the West Chatham Food Pantry’s regular clients are elderly, they are trying to serve them first.
“One reason we’re trying to serve our existing clients first is our food supply is dwindling,” Smith said.
While the West Chatham Food Pantry has “plenty of meat,” she said, its stock of staples — soups, crackers, canned vegetables and breakfast items — is in short supply.
The pantry typically receives its food from grocery stores and box stores through the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, a non-profit organization that distributes food to pantries in seven North Carolina counties. But Smith notes that those deliveries are more limited than normal.
In addition, bulk purchasing of staples, another method the West Chatham Food Pantry gets supplies, is now unavailable because of the demands of the supplies due to COVID-19.
“And we don’t know when that’s going to be available,” Smith said.
The West Chatham Food Pantry also need volunteers.
“A lot of our volunteers are older,” Smith said. “And that’s another challenge. We can’t find volunteers.”
Smith said the pantry has implemented practices due to COVID-19 concerns to protect both the volunteers and those seeking assistance. The pantry is now serving through a drive-up process, where clients remain in their cars and volunteers bring the food out to them. That has its own challenges. For example, they have a shipment of fresh vegetables, but because clients are not entering the facility at this time, packaging and distributing the produce is challenging for the limited number of pantry workers.
The West Chatham Food Pantry’s work is supported by several grants, and Smith said the organization is applying for more that are available during the COVID-19 crisis to “keep the bills paid,” but even with funding, the lack of supplies is a greater challenge, said Smith.
“Money is helpful,” she said, “but then we still have to go out and find the food.”
Smith urges members of the community who want to help by volunteering or donating food to visit the West Chatham Food Pantry, 2535 Old US Hwy 421 North, Siler City, during its regular operating hours — from 3:00 to 6 p.m. on Mondays and from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays. You can send an email to email@example.com.
“We’re going to try to stay open as long as we can,” Smith said. “We hope we don’t have to close.”
Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.