Feeding the Gulf Coast CEO Dan Emery has seen people pull up to the local food pantry in Mercedes and BMWs, something he wouldn’t have expected before the COVID-19 crisis.
Overall, the food bank has seen a 900 percent increase in activity over the last few weeks, which really highlights the level of food insecurity in the community, Emery said.
“You can really see how people live paycheck to paycheck,” he said.
The food bank supports different agencies in the city, but about 90 percent of them are churches. The COVID-19 crisis is certainly making a dent on inventory, Emery said.
“There are holes in our warehouse in places where you couldn’t even get to before,” he said. “There’s been an evacuation of product.”
The pantry is supported by individual private donations, but also receives a number of donations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s commodities program, Emery said. The supply right now is OK, he said. However, if this issue lasts another six to eight weeks, supplies could become limited.
The reason supplies could be strained, Emery said, is that there has been a huge shift from food service to retail over the last few weeks. The food pantry uses retail-sized portions of food to give out to agencies and folks in need. However, recently more of the food service-sized portions of food have become available and the retail portions have been snatched up by grocery stores more quickly than usual.
“Grocery stores are scooping up all the supplies,” he said. “We’re scrambling right now.”
As activity increases at food banks, local restaurateurs are trying to help those in need during the pandemic.
Cris Eddings, an owner of Five, Chuck’s Fish and El Papi, has been helping to feed those in need through a food charity supported by a percentage of sales at the restaurants. American Lunch is a food truck that drives to various locations in cities that have one of those restaurants and hand out free lunches, no questions asked. While American Lunch usually operates three days per week, the truck has been activated to five days per week, Eddings said, since the COVID-19 crisis began.
“We do it because we’ve been able to sell food as a successful business for years,” he said.
The truck spends its time at Cathedral Square downtown and Eddings said recently the group has seen long lines, as they transition to more of a sack lunch operation.
“We do about 200 lunches per day,” he said. “We still have situations where we run out.”
LoDa Bier Garten, with the help of Budweiser/Busch distributors and Spire marketing, made meals for service industry workers struggling through the pandemic, after many restaurants were forced to shut down after a number of orders limited eateries to curbside and to-go orders only.
From 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 9, LoDa staff made 500 burgers for service industry workers, owner Matthew Golden said.
“It was cool,” he said. “We got rid of all 500 of them.”
When asked if they planned to do it again, Golden said he didn’t know how much longer the place would be open. The orders have had a detrimental impact on his business, as the restaurant has lost 95 percent of its business. LoDa has been one of a small handful of downtown establishments that have remained open doing curbside and to-go orders only.
“I don’t know how much longer we’ll be open,” Golden said. “I have done my very best to keep all my salaried managers on.”
The city and the Salvation Army are reacting to the impact COVID-19 has had on the homeless population in the city.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson and Salvation Army Area Commander Maj. Tom Richmond announced the addition of portable toilets and hand-washing stations in areas frequented by the city’s homeless population. The stations will be located near 15 Place downtown, at 3 Circle Church at Sage Avenue and Emogene Street and at the Business Innovation Center on Azalea Road.
The Salvation Army will also continue feeding the homeless for lunch, but has moved the operation from Cathedral Square closer to 15 Place, Richmond said.
“The feeding program numbers continue to go up,” he said. “There haven’t been more people coming to town — it’s those places serving other people that have shut their doors.”
The feeding program takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he said.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Richmond said of the pandemic. “I hope we never will again.”
The Salvation Army’s shelter remains open as well, Richmond said, although the number of beds has been decreased to help follow social distancing guidelines. Homeless men can stay 10 nights in a 90-day period. The shelter offers laundry services, the ability to make phone calls, breakfast and dinner, Richmond said.
Rick Green, president of Mobile Makerspace, has begun 3D printing face shields to use during the pandemic. The masks are available for whomever needs them at no charge. Green asks that those interested call ahead before swinging by the space downtown.
“As of right now, people need them and we are printing them,” Green said. “They are available for anyone who needs them at no charge.”
In addition to the shields, Green said the straps for an easier-fitting surgical mask can also be 3D printed to help health care workers who wear those day in and day out.
“We’re printing a whole bunch of those,” he said.
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