By Rebecca Dravis
03:03PM / Sunday, March 15, 2020
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Food pantries in Northern Berkshire County are grappling with how to keep serving residents in need while keeping everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the St. John Paul Charity Center food pantry in Adams announced it will be closed until further notice, both the Al Nelson Friendship Center in North Adams and the Williamstown Food Pantry have opted to modify their routines to continue to remain open.
Carol DeMayo, who runs the Williamstown Food Pantry, said absent any formal direction from officials, she and her team decided to pre-bag items and leave them on a table outside the pantry's outside door for people to drive by and grab this Wednesday, March 18, which is the pantry's regular distribution day. Volunteers will not be able to assist clients, and after the distribution is complete, they will wash and sanitize the tables used.
"We're going to try to pre-pack as best we can," said DeMayo, adding that while most people will get the same items, such as soup and pasta, she knows the pantry's clients well enough to be able to customize as needed for people who are vegetarian or diabetic, for instance. "Take a number, sit in your car, and we'll wave when it's ready."
Similarly, the Al Nelson Friendship Center will distribute one pre-packaged box of food per household at the front door of the food pantry at 45 Eagle St. this coming Wednesday during its normal distribution hours. This is a change from its usual operations, during which people typically gather to wait down the street at First Baptist Church. The food pantry volunteers also will no longer be able to give rides home.
"We'll see how it goes and re-evaluate it afterward," said food pantry-co-founder Mark Rondeau, who said the changes were made after the center's board met twice last week to discuss how to maintain operations. "It's so new, everybody's sort of making it up as we go along."
Rondeau said the pantry takes a van weekly to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and so they are pretty well-stocked and prepared for this week's distribution -- though donations of regular food staples and personal care items like toilet paper and soap are always appreciated.
"We're pretty good. We can always use peanut butter," he said.
Over in Williamstown, the situation is a little different. DeMayo said the food pantry is still taking donations of both money and items, which can be left in the foyer of parish center on Southworth Street, where the outer door is always open.
But she said the pantry is in desperate need of personal care items like soap and toilet paper, which DeMayo said she was unable to purchase for the food pantry this week at area stores. She said she fears only being able to give each client one single roll of toilet paper.
"We could not buy any it anywhere," she said, adding that they are also short on soaps of all kind, dish soap, laundry detergent and bleach. And though the pantry had recent donations from students at both Pine Cobble School and Williamstown Elementary School, regular food supplies are running low, as well.
The pantry usually serves 20 to 30 people, but DeMayo said she wasn't sure if there would be fewer people coming this week because they are scared to come out or more people because of the shifting economic landscape. Two weeks ago they served 29 families, but she said she wouldn't be surprised if they had to add extra distribution days to accommodate delays in supplies as well as more families in need.
"No matter which we way we turn, everybody's nervous," she said. "I'm worried, everybody's worried, but we have to do the best we can."
Other food pantries
Stephentown, N.Y.: The Stephentown Food Pantry continues to serve the community with food assistance during this time. Extra health precautions and accommodations have been put in place so clients can be served as safely as possible. If someone needing food is sick and/or wishes to avoid contact with others, they should phone the food pantry at 518-487-8606 and leave a message with their phone number. Arrangements can be made for them to pick up a prepacked food bundle. Or they can designate a friend to collect their food for them.
The Stephentown Food Pantry offers assistance to residents of Stephentown, N.Y., and Hancock, Mass. The pantry is open every Saturday morning, weather permitting, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Stephentown Federated Church, 1513 Garfield Road (County Route 26). Appointments are not needed. As always, requests for help are confidential. The pantry is an equal opportunity provider. For information, call 518-487-8606.
Even before the current health crisis Stephentown Food Pantry use was increasing. The pantry relies entirely on community donations of money and food items to keep operating. If you would like to help out, please send your check made out to the Stephentown Food Pantry to the Stephentown Food Pantry treasurer at P. O. Box 387, Stephentown, NY 12168. Donations can also be made to the Regional Food Bank of Northeast New York, 965 Albany Shaker Road, Latham, NY 12110. Mark it for use by Stephentown Food Pantry and your contribution will be available for us to purchase low cost food from the Food Bank.