The New Albany Food Pantry is seeing an increase in customers because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Executive director Jennifer Wilcoxon said the pandemic has brought a 43% increase.

Although the pantry previously functioned as a choice pantry, in which customers could visit the pantry and choose items like they would in a grocery store, families now receive prepackaged boxes via drive-up service, Wilcoxon said. Families are able to visit the pantry twice monthly for the boxes, she said.

In April 2019, the pantry served 51 families, or 192 people, with 5,300 meals. Six of those families were new customers that month, Wilcoxon said.

This April, the pantry served 154 families, or 566 people, with 26,000 meals. Thirty-three of those families were new customers, she said.

The pantry operated at the Philip Heit Center for Healthy New Albany for a little over a month when the New Albany-Plain Local School District closed its buildings in mid-March because of state orders to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Wilcoxon said.

In early April, the pantry was able to return to its home at 79 N. High St., which is the annex building owned by the district.

New Albany-Plain Local spokesman Patrick Gallaway said the district does not provide direct funding for the food pantry or charge rent for its space in the annex, but it does help promote opportunities for families in need and people to help support the pantry and volunteer there.

The district also seeks "grants to benefit our students and families served by the pantry and give grant dollars secured when possible," he said.

Since March 18, the pantry also has been helping New Albany-Plain Local students on the free and reduced-price lunch plan, Wilcoxon said. Sixty to 70 families, or about 170 students, pick up meal boxes weekly, she said.

"(District officials are) looking to us to help provide some of that food for their families," she said.

The students' meal boxes include breakfast, lunch and snacks for weekdays, Wilcoxon said, or 10 total meals per student.

During the pantry's summer-meal program, which began April 29, families will continue to be able to pick up the boxes for students, she said.

Wilcoxon said the pantry is looking to order food from such suppliers as Gordon Food Service and Sysco Corp. to supplement what it receives from the Mid-Ohio Food Collective.

The pantry is accepting only monetary donations and not food donations during the pandemic for the safety of its workers, she said.

About half of the pantry's leadership staff still works in the pantry, as well as a few volunteers, Wilcoxon said. The pantry is adhering to the state mandate of 10 or fewer people in a group to limit the spread of the coronavirus, she said.

Wilcoxon said Facebook's recent donation of a box truck to the pantry will help the organization more easily pick up food from the Mid-Ohio Food Collective and such stores as Giant Eagle, Kroger and Target. The social-media company has a data center in the New Albany International Business Park.

Although the pantry owns the truck, local nonprofit organization New Albany Bridges, a division of Neighborhood Bridges, will be able to use it, she said.

Amber Tillman, a Facebook community-development manager with, said the box truck was donated as part of a coronavirus relief fund to help communities with pandemic-related challenges.

Tillman said Facebook is partnering with community organizations, schools and chambers of commerce to help meet needs in communities in which Facebook is located.

She said the funding is different in each community.

"We are funding things based on need," Tillman said.

In this case, Facebook reached out to New Albany-Plain Local leaders and learned a box truck was needed to help the pantry collect food, she said.

Gallaway confirmed the district helped the food pantry secure the box truck.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah