Oct 14, 2020 3:11 PM

Empty Stomachs, Vacant Hearts: Food Pantries Work To Keep Up With Demand

Posted Oct 14, 2020 3:11 PM

By Jeff Abell

As much as food feeds the body, hope feeds the soul. With both in mind, local food pantries work hard each week to fill empty stomachs and vacant hearts.

That mission has become more challenging due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Unemployment due to business closures has only increased the already high demand for food items throughout the area.

Salvation Army Lt. Dennis Jolly echoed that sentiment, adding that the faith-based charitable organization has seen an uptick in new clients. He said it has been challenging keeping shelves stocked, but so far everyone's needs have been met.

"There are people who are using the food bank for the first time. Some have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus," he said.

Jolly said food donations are always accepted and, once received, they are quarantined for the maximum time required by health guidelines governing COVID-19. The food pantry is open to all and each ready-to-pick-up basket contains several food items.

"Donations are always needed. We can make a dollar go a long way," Jolly said. " It's an honor and a privilege to serve this community."

At the Food Bank of Iowa Ottumwa Distribution Center, volunteers have been working to keep food pantries throughout the state stocked. Dylan Lampe, senior manager of marketing and communications, said it has been challenging for the non-profit to keep up with demand.

'We had one order that came in that was 20 times what it normally would be," Lampe said. "It has required us to be creative."

Food pantries also are facing a shortage of volunteers due to the self-imposed isolation of older volunteers. In light of the shortage of manpower, Lampe said volunteer shifts have been reduced at the food bank. The same situation is playing out at the Salvation Army.

"Our older volunteers are just not able to come in but we are getting by," Jolly said, adding that food baskets are distributed by appointment only on Tuesdays and Thursdays to minimize contact.

Despite having to navigate a new normal, non-profit food providers are learning to adapt. If a person is worried about donating a food item due to COVID-19 concerns, Jolly and Lampe say monetary donations are always welcome.

"These are challenging times, and the impact will be felt for a long time, but we will get through this," Lampe said.

To donate food, give a monetary donation, or volunteer, contact the Burlington Salvation Army at (319) 753-2038. To donate to the Food Bank of Iowa Ottumwa Distribution Center, contact (641) 682-3403.

To schedule an appointment at Kayla's Cupboard, contact (319) 237-8400. The St. Vincent de Paul Society food pantry can be contacted at (319) 752-9332.

Photo by Jeff Abell

Food items ready to be donated to a local food pantry are shown Wednesday in Burlington.