Pandemic has brought greater need for Grove City Food Pantry

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Volunteer Mary Ellen Walsh of Grove City loads a cart with groceries and other supplies for clients at the Grove City Food Pantry on Nov. 11.

In the time of COVID-19, the community's need for the services provided by the Grove City Food Pantry has grown.

At the same time, the food pantry has faced its own pandemic-related challenges.

"It's been a little overwhelming," pantry manager Tracy Fiber said. "We've had to make adjustments in our operations and how we serve our clients to keep up."

The pantry, which operates out of a vacant parsonage at the Grove City United Methodist Church, 2710 Columbus St., had to close its building to the public when the pandemic hit in March.

"It's been tough because we've always been a choice pantry where clients could come in and more or less pick what they wanted for their families," said pantry director Don Swogger. "Now we've had to go to prepacked boxes because they are easier to make sure we can keep everybody safe – our volunteers as well as our clients."

In the early days of the pandemic, after the building was closed to the public, clients would be met at the door and given a number. Then a volunteer would bring a prepacked box of food out to the client, Fiber said.

The pantry switched to a delivery-only program March 25.

"Before the pandemic, we had a limit of 14 clients we would serve each day," Fiber said. "With more families in need during the pandemic, we increased our program to make deliveries to 20 clients each day."

But the number of volunteers who were available to sort donated food items, assemble the delivery boxes and make the deliveries dwindled, she said.

"Many of our volunteers are seniors, and most of them because of age or medical conditions fall in a high-risk category for the virus," Fiber said. "A lot of them didn't feel comfortable about coming out anymore to volunteer. 

"Our priority is ensuring the safety of our volunteers and our clients," she said.

Community members took up the slack.

"They really stepped up, and we couldn't have kept going without their help," she said.

Volunteers Mike Ball of Orient and Rose Marie Davis of Grove City wheel out groceries and other supplies for clients outside the Grove City Food Pantry on Nov. 11.

In early July, the pantry changed back to a pickup service only.

Clients must make an appointment and schedule their pickup in advance through LSS 211 Central Ohio.

"They can dial 211 to contact them to set up a time to pick up your prepacked box at the front entrance to our building," Fiber said. 

Boxes are assembled to provide enough groceries to provide meals for three days, she said. The boxes come in two sizes, serving families with one to four members or those with five members or more.

The economic hardship many families have faced due to businesses closing, reducing hours or furloughing employees has led to an increase in the number of clients for the pantry, Swogger said.

Since March, about 250 families have signed up with the food pantry as first-time clients, he said.

"We've addressed the growing need for our services by allowing clients to visit the pantry twice a month instead of just once a month," Swogger said. 

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The Grove City Food Pantry serves clients from the Grove City, Galloway, Orient and Harrisburg communities.

It's more than just food the pantry provides, said Rose Marie Davis, who has volunteered at the pantry for more than 15 years.

It's also a nourishment of the soul, she said.

Davis, who volunteers each weekday at the pantry, helps check clients in as they arrive.

"There are so many people who are coming to our pantry for the first time," she said. "Sometimes I have the chance to chat with them a little bit. People sometimes need a chance to just say a few words to somebody about what they're going through."

One woman told Davis about how she and her husband had been homeless for a short time and were struggling to have more than one meal a day.

"It's heart-wrenching to hear that," Davis said. "It makes you realize how blessed you are, and you realize that life's challenges can happen to anybody. It can happen to you. It can happen to me.

"We need to take care of each other, especially in these times," she said.

Mark Sigrist, the Grove City resident who coordinates the annual Thanksgiving Wattle 5K run, created a website, wereseeds.com/grovecityfoodpantry, through which people can sign up to volunteer at the pantry, Fiber said. 

The food pantry is a major beneficiary of the money raised through the Wattle, which will be held on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26.

The site Sigrist created has helped draw more people to aid the pantry and make up for the loss of other volunteers, Fiber said.

The pantry is open to clients from noon to 2 p.m. weekdays.

Three volunteers are needed each day to help load cars, assembling boxes and other tasks as needed, Fiber said. Volunteers work from 11:30 am. to 2:30 p.m. in a safe-distancing and mask-wearing environment.

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