Feeding the village amid crisis
- Published: March 26, 2020
One evening earlier this week, Kim Horn stocked the Little Free Pantry outside of the First Presbyterian Church full with food and personal care items.
By the next morning it was empty.
It’s one sign of the growing food insecurity in Yellow Springs. In the wake of business closures across the state to stem the spread of COVID-19, many in the village and township have lost their incomes. And, as in many other communities, hunger here is rising.
Also rising: a coordinated, rapid local response to food insecurity.
Melissa Heston is leading that effort in her role as the YS Community Foundation Outreach Manager.
“We’ve made food the priority now,” Heston said of the foundation’s COVID-19 response.
The need here is becoming increasingly clear, she said.
“We’re finding that that is the potential big need in our community because so many of the service workers and young people were laid off from their jobs in Yellow Springs,” Heston said. However, unemployment only pays a portion of one’s lost wages.
“Some of these individuals were making $12 an hour. With unemployment it will drop down to $6 or $7 per hour,” she explained.
As a result of the acute need for food, Heston has focused her work on building on existing local food assistance efforts, including the Yellow Springs Community Food Pantry, the Yellow Springs Schools free and reduced lunch programs and the Little Free Pantry.
The YS Community Food Pantry is based out of the United Methodist Church and is open on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. However, the pantry may not be able to meet the needs of more than their current group of families — without additional help, that is.
“We’ve been trying to get an expanded food pantry,” Heston said on a conference call involving local government and nonprofit entities earlier this week. “That is in the works.”
Still, Heston doesn’t want to discourage people from showing up at the pantry if they’re hungry, and hopes they can meet everyone’s need for food on an upcoming Thursday. As for those looking to help, the local pantry is seeking donations of money and can now also take food items on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 to 11:30 a.m., since the church is currently closed. However, villagers can still donate non-perishable items through the monthly PORCH pickup (see later in the article for details).
The Yellow Springs Schools, meanwhile, has committed to continuing to provide local school families with breakfasts and lunches. Heston has worked with other local groups in supplementing that supply of food with dinners.
And she encourages villagers to help stock the Little Free Pantry, located on the Walnut Street side of the First Presbyterian Church.
“I would highly encourage villagers when they’re on their walks, to notice what needs to be filled and to continue to fill that,” she said. “That’s something that everyone can do and everyone can be a part of.”
This article will detail the work being done to get food to hungry people in the village.
Yellow Springs Schools efforts
On the first day that the Yellow Springs Schools began preparing carry-out meals for the 200 local school children who qualify for free and reduced breakfasts and lunches, only about half showed up.
School administrators and teachers who volunteered to help with the effort then spent the next five hours figuring out who didn’t come, and delivering the food directly to them.
YS High School intervention specialist Donna Haller figures many parents were probably still working, or couldn’t get transportation to the school that day. As a result, the schools have gone to delivery only, twice per week.
And they’ve expanded their offerings. Three breakfasts and lunches for each child is supplemented by five dinners for the whole family for the week, thanks to volunteers and food from the YS Community Food Pantry.
On Tuesday this week, about 20 school volunteers delivered to 85 families on 12 routes — five of them in Yellow Springs. Because of open enrollment, additional routes bring food to families as far away as Dayton, Huber Heights, Springfield and Cedarville. The entire delivery took less than two hours, Haller noted.
“It’s been going great,” she said of the program. “We’re learning as we go.”
In addition to those who have qualified for free and reduced meals, the schools have been able to extend the offerings to others in need, such as those whose parents have lost their jobs. However, Haller isn’t sure they will be able to continue to do so if the need rises too rapidly.
“We’re delivering to anyone who calls. We haven’t turned anyone away yet,” she said.
Also supplementing the deliveries is YSHS school nurse Tina Bujenovic, who is providing sanitary napkins and tampons to local teens.
Because only school employees can help with the deliveries due to confidentiality issues, there are plenty of other ways villagers can help, Haller added.
One way is for villagers to participate in the PORCH program to get more items for the food pantry, which are then shared with the schools.
“If every household that could afford it just did that once per month, our food pantry would stay full,” Haller said.
Pickups of non-perishable items take place from local front porches the first Monday of the month between 10 a.m. and noon. The next pickup is Monday, April 6. Those who are interested must arrange pickup ahead of time with organizer Libby Hammond, who can be reached at email@example.com.
In general, Haller has been impressed so far with the schools’ commitment to feeding its students, with YS Schools Superintendent Terri Holden leading the way.
“Holden is so dedicated,” Haller said. “She says it’s our responsibility to feed our families.”
Little Free Pantry
The Little Free Pantry has been an important part of local food assistance for the last several years, since Kim Horn brought the idea to the village. Horn’s husband built the pantry, which is largely stocked, and emptied, anonymously. In fact, that’s the strength of the mini-pantry, she believes.
“People just don’t feel comfortable asking for help, they like the anonymity,” Horn said this week.
It can also be a challenge when essential foods and personal care items are not donated.
“You don’t know what people are going to drop off,” she said.
With more and more people affected economically by the restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the demand is outstripping the supply at the Little Free Pantry. As Horn puts it, “it’s getting cleaned out every night.” It’s also bringing a new clientele, who may be even less likely to reach out to other food pantries.
“People who have never been in that position of needing help are finding themselves insecure in a lot of areas — and food is one of them,” she said.
However, Horn is growing concerned about many of these folks’ lack of access to a “stable, secure food supply.” That’s one reason Horn has been working to fill the Little Free Pantry as much as possible, and encouraging others to do so as well.
Specifically, Horn hopes villagers donate “complete meals,” such as pasta sauce and spaghetti, or a can of meat (such as chicken, tuna or salmon) and a box of a prepared meal to which meat is added. In addition, she suggested soups, canned fruits, cereals, oatmeal and personal care items such as laundry detergent.
Heston is also getting the word out.
“It’s an over-utilized resource,” she said of the Little Free Pantry. “We want to continue to make sure we’re meeting that need as well.”
Senior Center food deliveries
Although not providing food free-of-charge, the Yellow Springs Senior Center has been working hard to make sure local people who can’t leave their home don’t go hungry. They’re doing so in a new partnership with Tom’s Market to deliver groceries to people’s doors.
It works like this: Village and township residents can email in their orders to the Senior Center at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call them at 937-767-5751 between 10 a.m. and noon daily. Payment information is only taken over the phone, so those who email their orders will be called for that information.
A crew of volunteers then shops for the individual and delivers the food to their porch the next day. Orders are being delivered Tuesday through Saturday. In just four days last week, 36 households had been served.
And it’s not just for local seniors, according to YS Senior Center Director Karen Wolford.
“Our grocery delivery system is for anyone in need,” she said at a town hall last week. “It is for anyone in the 45387 zip code.”
Wolford added that only one delivery to a household is permitted per week, and encouraged those using the service to order enough groceries to last one week.
Kelly Ann Tracy is coordinating volunteers for the task, and said there are now 15 volunteers shopping and delivering the food orders. However, she said she could use 10 more volunteers. Plus, she is in need of another scarce local item — thermometers, so that volunteers can take their temperature before each day’s shopping trip.
“Since the fever is the first symptom that seems to be happening, it behooves any of us who are volunteers to take our temperature in the morning,” Tracy said this week.
Tracy said that Miami Township Fire-Rescue has agreed to sterilize any used thermometers that are donated for the cause. To donate, email Tracy at email@example.com, call 720-471-3417, or private message the Facebook page, “It Takes a Village Yellow Springs.”
Tracy, who retired from the field of healthcare finance, said she volunteered her time to help the community through a difficult time. Though she finds that the local seniors she interacts with (at a distance) as part of the program are concerned about the coronavirus, they also are grateful for the increased effort to help them.
“What they are telling me is that they feel very taken care of,” Tracy said.
To volunteer to any local food assistance efforts, contact the Yellow Springs Community Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at 937-767-2655.