BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — With six kids at home instead of in school and her work hours cut due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jennifer is feeling the pinch.
So last week she drove to Waterville to pick up several bags of groceries from the Anthony Wayne Comm-unity Food Ministry (AWCFM), which typically distributes donated food grocery store-style from inside the Waterville Community Church.
Instead, volunteers took the ministry outside, rolling shopping carts filled with pre-bagged items to the clients, who remained inside their vehicles. Wearing masks and gloves, volunteers greeted the guests to find out household size in order to distribute the right amount.
“At least 340 bags of food were passed out to recipients who qualify,” said Ron Shoemaker, president of AWCFM.
Volunteers packed 240 bags of groceries and 100 bags of perishable items, including meat, eggs, produce and bread, he said. Of the 74 families served on March 24, 18 were new to the service, which requires proof of need but is available to anyone in Northwest Ohio.
One mom, in a minivan with three kids in car seats, said it was her first time to the food distribution.
“My husband is about to get laid off,” she said. “We really need the food. I’m extremely low.”
Another mom came for canned goods to help ease a budget that’s been strained by medical bills from hip surgery.
“These are great people,” she said, looking out at the volunteers as her kids sat quietly in the back of the van.
Shoemaker agreed, noting that new volunteers, including Boy Scouts from Troop 101 in Waterville, showed up to help.
With students out of school, many families are spending more on breakfast and lunch. For those who rely upon free or reduced-price meals, having kids eating at home can be a financial strain, Jennifer said.
A group of local clergy and the Awake Community Coalition are working with AWCFM to launch a weekend food program for AW students who normally qualify for the school’s daily meal program. With support from Whitehouse Zion Methodist Church, New Life Alliance Church and Waterville Com-munity Church, AWCFM purchased single-serve food items to be bagged and delivered to Whitehouse Primary School for distribution to qualifying students.
“This new project is designed to address children who are facing food challenges over the weekend,” Shoemaker said.
Zion United Methodist coordinated a food collection using Facebook and New Life provided funding to purchase the initial inventory. Waterville Community Church is supplying volunteers to fill the bags and transport them to the school.
“It’s a true community effort,” Shoemaker said.
The AWCFM typically serves 80 to 90 households. Like other regional food banks, Shoemaker said he expected to see a slight decrease because of the stay-at-home order. However, he anticipates the number to grow in the coming weeks.
“We’re trying to identify folks who have come to our pantry in recent months but didn’t come this past Tuesday. We hope to reach out to these individuals and deliver food to them if needed,” Shoemaker said. “Community support has been tremendous.”
Those who want to donate items are encouraged to go to the website, awcfm.com, or visit Facebook to see current food needs. Canned items such as tuna, chicken, soups (chicken noodle, tomato and cream of mushroom), baked beans, chili, fruit (peaches, pears and fruit cocktail), SpaghettiOs and spaghetti sauce are typical needs. Peanut butter and cereal are needed as well.
The distribution is usually set up like a grocery store, with a volunteer walking with the recipient through the process of selecting breads, fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheese and canned food items. To keep volunteers and recipients as safe as possible, however, the setup has changed to a drive-thru, Shoemaker said.
“Things change daily it seems, but we will do everything we can to continue serving those in need as long as we can maintain the safety of our volunteers and those we serve while respecting our governor’s decisions to protect the public,” he said.