While many food pantries across the country have seen a rapid increase in the number of clients coming to their doors for assistance during the Pandemic, Thomas Van Gelder at the Galena Food Pantry in Galena, Illinois has seen something a little different.
“The irony is we have fewer clients coming in,” he said. However, that’s not necessarily reassuring, he added.
Van Gelder, chairman and director of the administration, believes that many of the Food Pantry’s elderly and health-compromised clients aren’t coming to the food pantry because they are afraid of the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Because of this, volunteers are rallying to reach out to clients. Fundraising and Food Drives Director Carmen Ferguson says the organization is coordinating personal shoppers for people who are not willing or able to come to the pantry. In addition, the pantry, which just relocated to its new home at 219 Summit Street, has changed its platform to becoming a “choice pantry,” which allows clients to walk through aisles to pick their food. Previously, volunteers coordinated shopping lists and put together boxes for clients, which was arduous.
“It just keeps improving,” Ferguson said.
Hospitality industry hit hard
The Galena Food Pantry serves more than 400 individuals and families a year in a small city which receives nearly one million tourists on an average year. The area is known for its shopping and dining, elegant places to stay, vibrant history, architecture and natural beauty in the Driftless Area.
Throughout the Pandemic, restaurant owners, shops and hotels have continued to roll out creative ways to draw tourists, stay open and keep their employees on staff. The city has allowed outdoor dining and kept many of its most popular weekend activities on its calendar.
Yet, Galena Food Pantry volunteers say there are more hospitality industry folks coming to the Galena Food Pantry for help than they have seen since the Great Recession.
‘We are so blessed.’
Celeste Mancini, director of operations and distribution, has had her heartstrings pulled by many of the clients and their living situations.
“Sometimes we’re given large packages of meat to give to our clients,” said Mancini. “But some people don’t take the meat because they don’t even have a refrigerator.”
During the holidays, a woman stood at the Galena Food Pantry and held a form in her hands. It was a list of gifts she could choose from the Pantry to give to her children at Christmas.
“This one lady started crying. She said, not only did we help feed her body, but also we helped feed her soul. It meant a lot to me,” Mancini said.
Many of the clients who come into the Food Pantry are working two or three jobs and have families. Yet, one client, also during the recent holidays, found the time and resources to bake a cake for the volunteers at the Pantry.
“It was to die for. . . And the generosity of our clients is just . . . We are so blessed,” Mancini said.
Dreams of wheels
Keeping with the drive to continue to improve ways he and the community can better serve their clients, Van Gelder has dreams.
“-Wheels for families,” he said.
His dream is to help people keep their cars on the road so they can continue to go to work.
“A car breakdown is really traumatic,” he said. “If you don’t have a working car, you don’t get to a job, to interviews, to doctors’ appointments. It takes all the wheels off in your life.”
Van Gelder isn’t quite sure how he’ll get this dream on the road, but he hopes someday more people will join him in his efforts.
The Galena Food Pantry is run by the United Churches of Galena, a collective of nine houses of worship. The group banded together to reduce the duplication of efforts being made to feed families in their times of need.