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Canned vegetables sit on shelves Nov. 27, 2018, at the Hastings Food Pantry. Local food programs are trying to keep up with demand during the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic.

With aisles in grocery stores becoming more bare and more and more people unable to go to work, preparing a meal is developing into more of a challenge for some in Hastings.

The novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, has caused the demand for even simple grocery items to increase and has changed the way we go about our daily activities, including something as basic as eating. But four local food programs are continuing to put forth their best effort to make sure as many people as possible aren’t struggling to be fed.

Catholic Social Services, Hastings Food Pantry, Salvation Army and Crossroads Mission Avenue all are trying to make sack lunches and other meals available for those who need them.

“The Food Pantry has been around for a number of years, and it started out as an emergency response to hunger in the community, and that’s still what we’re doing,” said Don Gronemeyer, president of the Food Pantry board of directors. “Things were rolling along pretty good until this virus came, and now we’re needing to make some adjustments.”

Gronemeyer said the organization’s first goal is to stay open as long as possible in order to assist the community.

The Food Pantry has made some changes in the way its clients receive the food. Those scheduled to receive a food order will now do so by appointment at a scheduled time. The food will be ready at a designated location near the Pantry’s office so the client can pick up the order without any face-to-face interaction — an attempt to adhere to social distancing recommendations.

Phil Rosno, director of Catholic Social Services in Hastings, said his organization also is working to reduce the amount of person-to-person contact as well as implementing other changes that hopefully will prevent any future complications.

“We are assessing the situation day by day,” he said. “We are having a lot more conversations with our staff and volunteers as far as steps to take to try to slow the spread of this and how best to serve our clientele with the fact that so much is going on. We’ve made some adjustments in the way we’re doing things — just more precautions, more preparation, and more forward thinking about how to best handle the changing landscape that we’re dealing with.”

Rosno added that the number of staff and volunteers available has decreased. Some workers are performing their duties from home, while others are taking time off from helping to tend to family members.

While the number of people putting together meals or attending to other programs the Catholic Social Services offer may not be what it was earlier in the year, Rosno said, the effort hasn’t changed.

“We’re working with what we have,” he said. “But we have other volunteers that are stepping up and doing everything they can to try and help us operate as much as we can, as normal as possible.”

Able bodies aren’t the only supply that’s dwindling. As consumers clear out shelves in the grocery stores, available products used by some of the local food programs are becoming fewer. While Gronemeyer hasn’t seen a dire shortage yet, Food Pantry officials are unsure if that will be the case in the near future.

“We were pretty well stocked, but we’ve been really busy the last several days. We’re running short on some items. I’ve ordered some things from grocery stores, but they’re unsure if they’ll be able to get all of them. We’re trying; we’ll just distribute what we have,” Gronemeyer said.

Rosno said his organization was stocked full in anticipation of helping families with children who normally depend on getting their meals from school. But schools are providing those kids with meals already, leaving Catholic Social Services supplied to help anyone needing it.

“Fortunately, we have a pretty good stock of sandwiches and sacks ready to go, so we’re not hurting in that department yet,” Rosno said. “We haven’t been flooded with requests; it’s stayed pretty level, so there hasn’t been a huge influx of people coming in for sacked lunches.”

Catholic Social Services’ sack lunch program is Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m.

Both Rosno and Gronemeyer said their organizations still are accepting donations, as they try to stay prepared for any amount of increase in people needing their services. Anyone looking to receive food orders through the Food Pantry must be referred. Gronemeyer said if anyone goes to the Salvation Army, Catholic Social Services, or even other churches and agencies in town, those establishments can relay the necessary information to the Food Pantry and have that individual or family set up to receive food orders.

Gronemeyer said that the best donation at this time is cash or a check.

“That would be the easiest donation for us right now. That helps us provide things that can’t store on the shelf forever,” he said.

Another change Catholic Social Services is making is that it is closing its thrift store, starting Friday, and it will be closed until further notice. Rosno said they are still accepting donations for the thrift store, which can be dropped off at the trailer in the parking lot starting Monday.

Normally during this time, the organization would be collecting donations for its Lent food drive. Catholic Social Services still will accept food drive donations, but donors will have to go to the parishes and pick up a donation sack, fill it with food and return the sack.

Rosno said the best way to get started volunteering or donating is to call the office’s number at 402-463-2112.

“If people want to donate or make a cash donation or donate canned goods for our food drive, we will accept all of that. We foresee that we will be needing that because we’re just getting started,” Rosno said. “Things are probably going to get worse before they start getting better.”

Catholic Social Services (402-463-2112), 325 W. Second St.

Hastings Food Pantry (402-463-2911), 918 W. Fifth St.

Salvation Army (402-463-2930), 400 S. Burlington Ave.

Crossroads (402-462-6460), 702 W. 14th St.


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