Community helps Gahanna Residents In Need as food insecurity spreads during pandemic

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Beth Bentley, Gahanna Residents In Need program director, displays some of the food items included in GRIN's food packages for its holiday food-box-distribution program, which is scheduled as a drive-thru event Saturday, Nov. 21, at Peace Lutheran Church in Gahanna. Applicants are required to register by Saturday, Nov. 14, to receive a package.

Gahanna residents have been helping each other this year through Gahanna Residents In Need.

Brenda Johnston, GRIN executive director, said the organization is operating at a 27% increase in demand across all food-associated programs, and the demand has not declined since March.  

On the organization’s website at grin4gahanna.org, a timeline about GRIN said the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic hit in March, and the needs increased exponentially. 

“The community’s generously helped GRIN to continue helping those in need,” the site said.

Johnston said GRIN has been transporting such high numbers of produce on a weekly basis that they have been struggling for transportation, and Gahanna Parks & Recreation and CRT Realtors have been helping because the group’s volunteers and vehicles are wearing out.

She said GRIN recently acquired a box truck that has been helpful.

“This was acquired through contributions from the community, which is amazing,” Johnston said. “I am so thankful that the community has stepped up to the challenge of helping GRIN keep up with the capacity of need in Gahanna.”

Beth Bentley, GRIN program director, said serving Gahanna through the pandemic has provided some interesting challenges.

“We implemented a drive-thru process to keep both the families we serve and the volunteers safe,” she said. “Consistently using PPE (personal protective equipment) and increased cleaning protocol have kept us going. We are constantly improving and adjusting our process as demand and the weather changes.”

Bentley said many new families have visited GRIN since March. 

“A good portion of them have never needed any assistance in the past and it can be a very humbling experience,” she said. “We are thankful we are able to meet families in their need.”

Bentley said the generosity of the Gahanna community has been overwhelming.

“Without their faithful food and monetary donations, we would not have been able to be successful,” she said.

Johnston said this holiday season has changed because it is exclusively drive-thru, plus GRIN has eliminated things like providing gloves and socks.

“This year, it is all drive-thru, and we are giving out one food box that will encompass things needed for Thanksgiving and Christmas, plus a food gift card, totaling $100 per holiday box/gift card,” she said. “We anticipate the need to be heightened because the numbers have risen across all programs.”

She said summer lunch provided 13,047 grab-and-go lunches compared to 5,151 last year.

Johnston said the August back-to-school fair also saw increased participation, and the food pantry has experienced an increase in demand.

“We had to alter our back-to-school fair to a drive-thru method, and that was so successful that we think we are going to continue to do that on a yearly basis, as it was so smooth and convenient for our client," Johnston said.

She said she hopes the holiday assistance program will go as well when GRIN provides food boxes to more than 200 families Nov. 21 at Peace Lutheran Church. Registration was required.

Johnston said the needs this year have included ways to keep the community, volunteers and donors safe with the coronavirus.  

She said GRIN has achieved that by implementing the following:

• All pantries are drive-thru and two pantry refreshes have been added for proteins and produce because of the increased need since March.

• All appointments have been eliminated to alleviate time constraints and transportation issues for clients.

• Limiting the number of volunteers in the pantry at one time to sort, stock, stuff boxes and take care of donations.

• Everyone takes their temperatures, wears a mask and uses hand sanitizer as much as possible. 

• Increased use of social media to seek volunteers because most GRIN volunteers are older and in the high-risk group.

Bentley said GRIN’s greatest needs in the pantry are beef stew and meal soups, cleaning supplies and volunteers. 

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla