Aletha Mullins has seen the images of long lines of vehicles at food banks in other parts of the country.

Although those scenes aren't playing out at the Canal Winchester Human Services Community Food Pantry, its director remains concerned about the future with so many people out of work because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

More than a million Ohio workers have filed unemployment claims since restrictions were imposed in response to the virus started affecting the economy, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

"It's taken a little bit of time, but we're seeing an increase," Mullins said of the number of people seeking help from the pantry. "We're starting to see those new people, and some are telling us this is the first time they've ever used something like this. They're just not sure what to do."

When the national nonprofit Feeding America surveyed its more than 200 affiliated food banks in mid-March, 92% indicated they were seeing increased need.

In the past month, the Canal Winchester pantry has assisted 13 new families totaling 26 people, Mullins said. Typically, the pantry might see two to three new families in a month, she said.

On average, the pantry, at 80 Covenant Way, aids roughly 500 people every month from the Canal Winchester and Bloom-Carroll school districts, Lithopolis and underserved rural areas of Fairfield County.

"They're just extremely grateful that we're there, and I assure them that's why we're there," said Anne Kissner, vice chairwoman of the Canal Winchester Human Services Executive Board. "I say this all the time -- that we're all one paycheck away from needing a service like this, and that's why we're here."

Operating on an appointment-only basis, the Canal Winchester food pantry is open from 1 to 3 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and from 4 to 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month.

Every client can use the pantry twice a month, Mullins said. They receive five days' worth of food for each family member.

Usually, families come in and select their own food. However, Mullins said volunteers now are shopping to meet social distancing guidelines and recommendations from the health department.

"We've made a list of items we have and take it to the client's car, and they circle the items on the sheet they're interested in," she said. "Then we have a volunteer do all the shopping."

While the Feeding America survey also indicated donations were down at 64% of its affiliated food banks, that hasn't been the case in Canal Winchester.

Mullins said donations have been "good," even though one of the pantry's largest fundraisers fell victim to the virus.

The 14th annual Scouting for Food Drive, in which Boy Scouts go door to door to collect contributions of food and other items, was canceled because of safety concerns. However, the leaders of Troop 103 came up with the idea of seeking monetary donations for a Community Week 2020 to benefit the pantry's emergency assistance fund, which pays for things such as utilities and prescriptions.

The goal was to raise $25,000 between April 18 and April 26. Mullins said May 1 more than $20,000 had been donated, with additional contributions expected.

"We've been very lucky, and we have a great community that's always willing to give back," Kissner said.

For more information about the food pantry, go to cwhumanservices.org.

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