Marble Cliff's Heart to Heart food pantry expands hours
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, the volunteers who operate First Community Church's Heart to Heart food pantry were forced to make adjustments.
"Like every food pantry, we've had to change everything we do and how we do it," said the Rev. Kate Shaner, First Community's minister of mission and Heart to Heart director.
COVID-19 restrictions meant clients no longer could go into the Heart to Heart pantry in the annex at First Community's south campus, 1320 Cambridge Blvd. in Marble Cliff.
"We switched from being a choice pantry, where people could come in and personally choose the food for their families, to providing prepackaged bags of food for our clients," Shaner said.
The pantry operates as a drive-thru service, with clients driving through the church parking lot to pick up the bags prepacked and distributed by volunteers, she said.
"We try to give people enough food to provide their families with three meals a day for three days," Shaner said.
The pantry changed its service hours beginning in November. The pantry is open to clients from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays in addition to the regular hours of 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The evening hours offer more convenience for those who might find it difficult to visit the pantry during the day, Shaner said.
"That first Wednesday we were open, we had cars lined up out of the parking lot even before we were open," she said.
Heart to Heart served 81 families the first week of November at the drive-thru pantry.
When the pandemic hit just before spring, the expectation was that the number of clients would increase due to the impact of businesses closing, reducing operations or furloughing employees, Shaner said.
Although that occurred at first, "our numbers have been fluctuating and actually trending downward," she said.
She pointed to two major reasons for that trend.
A COTA bus stop near First Community's south campus has been removed, she said.
"That may make it harder for some people who don't have access to a car to get to our location," Shaner said.
Another factor is that other central Ohio pantries that previously served clients from only specific ZIP codes have loosened those restrictions during the pandemic, she said.
"We serve people from all over the area, and there may be other pantries that are more conveniently located for some people that had been coming to our pantry," Shaner said.
Heart to Heart's mission continues – to serve as many people in need as possible, Shaner said.
The pantry now operates a pop-up pantry Wednesday evenings at various locations in and around Columbus, she said.
"We work with different social agencies to identify folks who may need food but may not be able to get out to a pantry," Shaner said.
The pop-up pantries bring Heart to Heart's services to their local communities, she said.
In October, the pop-up pantry distributed food at the Commons at Livingston, Southpoint Apartments and the Commons at Grant.
Heart to Heart is looking to expand the pop-up pantry to provide service to immigrant and refugee families, Shaner said.
Despite the pandemic, Heart to Heart has been able to maintain its operations by making adjustments and because of the strong team of volunteers that help pick up, sort, package and distribute food items, she said.
Ohio State University sophomore Maggie O'Brien volunteered at Heart to Heart for the first time Nov. 12.
"I'm a member of the Alpha Phi sorority, and our chapter puts a high emphasis on service to the community," she said. "I volunteer at a food pantry back home in New Jersey. It's a cause that's really important to me."
What's impressive about Heart to Heart, O'Brien said, is the care the pantry's volunteers show to clients.
"It's so nice because they're treating them like they're real people, human beings, and not just another faceless person," she said. "There's a personal touch."
Especially during the pandemic, people need more than just food to eat, O'Brien said.
They need encouragement and support, too, and that's what Heart to Heart volunteers provide, she said.