Pickerington Food Pantry seeks to meet community needs amid pandemic

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Pickerington food pantry logo

After weathering a surge in clients brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the Pickerington Food Pantry continues to seek donations and volunteers to meet ongoing needs.

When the pandemic led to a statewide shutdown in mid-March, the financial pinch among residents in the Pickerington and Violet Township communities immediately was noticed at the pantry.

Vanessa Niekamp, executive director, said within the first month of the shutdown, the pantry saw a 22% increase in patrons.

“It was all people being laid off,” Niekamp said. “All of a sudden, their lives were really turned on their ends.”

Many were first-time clients, Niekamp said.

One family of six participated for the first time after the husband and wife, both volunteers at the pantry, were laid off from their jobs. They also sold a car to keep afloat, Niekamp said. 

Although both parents returned to their jobs, they continued to receive assistance from the pantry.

“They were able to go back to work, but they’re still coming to the food pantry because the bills they deferred are coming due,” Niekamp said. “Even though a lot of our families are getting back to work, they’re not in the same financial place they were.

“They’re trying to keep their homes and their cars.”

Since the initial uptick in clients in March, Niekamp said the number of visitors and the amount of food the pantry provides has returned to normal numbers.

That means more than 194,000 meals are expected to be given this year.

Through Nov. 20, she said, the pantry served 460 people in November, of which 37% were under the age of 17.

Another 21% were senior citizens, Niekamp said.

“Historically, that has stayed under 18%,” she said. “We also track ‘multigenerational’ homes, meaning homes where grandparents have grandchildren staying in their homes.

“There’s been an increase of multigenerational homes we’re serving of 4.7% since March. That’s pretty significant for just a six-month time frame.”

Even in typical years, Niekamp said, soliciting donations and finding volunteers, is a challenge.

This year, those efforts are compounded by the pandemic, especially because many public events where pantry representatives set up booths or distribute information were canceled.

Additionally, the pantry’s biggest annual fundraiser, The Gala, was canceled in March.

“The Gala itself would raise about $38,000 (annually) for the pantry,” Niekamp said. “We weren’t able to have the event last March, and it looks like we’re still not going to be able to have the event in 2021.

“We are down $63,109.29 due to special events we were unable to have this year.”

There has been some help.

On Nov. 4, the Violet Township trustees passed a resolution to provide $2,232 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding to the pantry, which Niekamp said went to buy food supplies.

For every $1 spent, the pantry buys $11 worth of food through the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, according to Niekamp.

“This time last year we were asking for money for a freezer,” she said. “We got that freezer, and our equipment is good.

“We are just asking for donations to try to meet the financial needs of the pantry. Even if someone makes a $10 donation, that’s a huge impact to the pantry because of what I can buy with it from the food bank.”

As winter sets in and the holidays approach, Niekamp said, the pantry won’t be able to solicit donations during the Olde Pickerington Village Association’s annual Holiday Gathering.

That event also was used to encourage people to tour the pantry in hopes they would make donations or volunteer to help distribute food.

Information on making donations or volunteering can be found at the pantry’s website pickeringtonfoodpantry.org. Niekamp also encouraged those who need assistance to contact her at 614-441-3377 or at vanessa@pickeringtonfoodpantry.org.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate