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Coronavirus complicates the work of Carroll County food pantries

David Benedict and Jacob Hill prepare to distribute food to Carroll Food Sunday clients on Thursday, March 26.
David Benedict and Jacob Hill prepare to distribute food to Carroll Food Sunday clients on Thursday, March 26.(Jon Kelvey)

The East Middle School parking lot in Westminster was marked with traffic cones and signs Thursday morning, the better to keep those coming by to receive bags of shelf-stable food and the Red Cross and Carroll County Emergency Management team staff distributing those bags at a good 6-foot remove from one another — the healthy separation recommended as part of the “social distancing” designed to help slow the transmission of the novel coronavirus.

“One of the biggest pieces with social distancing is to make sure that we as the people that are facilitating this are meeting this goal,” said Celene Steckel, director of the Carroll County Department of Citizen Services, from 6 feet behind a table where she was watching the food distribution services. “You can have all the literature you want, but you have to constantly remind people.”

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Coronavirus complicates the work of Carroll County food pantries

Over the course of several hours, about 68 households, the majority of clients of Carroll County Food Sunday, drove or walked through the East Middle lot to get food, an example of modifications food banks and pantries are making in order to continue to serve their clients at a time when large groups can no longer congregate. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan limited gatherings to 10 people on March 19.

As of late Saturday, the coronavirus had resulted in some 2,000 deaths in the United States out of more than 120,000 who have tested positive for the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. now has the most confirmed cases in the world, followed by Italy with more than 92,000 and China with about 82,000.

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Tuesday and Thursdays were the two days designated for distribution by Carroll County Food Sunday, which normally services clients at the nonprofit’s distillery building location. But continuing to bring as many as 50 people into close contact with each other and Food Sunday volunteers was deemed too much of a risk even prior to Hogan’s order, according to Executive Director Ed Leister.

“Both our volunteers and clients, along with the public, are facing precarious times at present and it is difficult to know the proper action to take,” Leister wrote in an email. “Most of our CCFS volunteers are 75-plus years of age and fall in the high risk range to serve. Now that we are aware that a large number of those who are ill are in the 20-to-40 years age range and the extreme danger to any who are 60-plus years of age, that covers approximately 70% of our clients as well.”

There will be no further Carroll Food Sunday distributions until further notice, according to Leister, but they are providing food to the Carroll County Emergency Operations Food Collaborative, which not only handled the Food Sunday distribution Thursday instead of the nonprofits’ usual volunteers, but will be tracking community need and finding ways to get meals to people who need them going forward.

“We will be looking to see where the need is and how, how we need to disperse that food, whether it’s that we just have one of our staff drop it on the doorstep if a person can drive they come pick it up,” Steckel said. “Although county office buildings are closed, our case managers are continuing to do outreach from home.”

And anyone who has an emergent social services need can still reach staff members at county agencies, Steckel added, as there will be people answering the phones or returning voicemails. The Department of Social Services can be reached at 800-332-6347, the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities at 410-386-3800, the Bureau of Housing at 410-386-3600, Human Services Programs of Carroll County inc., at 410-857-2999 and the Carroll County Health Department at 410-876-4848.

As of Thursday afternoon, however, there didn’t appear to be a deep need for food, at least not yet, according to Steckel. On Tuesday, they served about 80 households that typically patronize Carroll Food Sunday, and by 12:30 p.m Thursday, they had served 68 families.

Food Sunday typically serves more than 300 people in a week, Steckel said. That could be due to people preferring isolation to picking up food at this time due to fears of the novel coronavirus, she said, or they might be stocked up or being served in another fashion for the time being.

Before Carroll’s senior and community centers were closed on March 12, for instance, they sent people who wanted them home with emergency meal kits, according to Steckel. At least one-quarter of the people Carroll Food Sunday serves are older adults.

“Carroll Food Sunday also provides food to people that have children. And so I think that that’s another reason that there’s not as much of a need coming through,” Steckel said. “The school system is providing their mass distribution on a daily basis at the different locations throughout Carroll County.”

The Carroll County Public School Emergency Feeding Program has been providing free meals to anyone under 18, whether they are public school students or not, since March 16.

There are also other faith-based and nonprofit soup kitchens and food pantries that are there to support people, according to Steckel.

“They’re still operational. they are still serving,” she said. “They’ve all kind of morphed their model over to if they’re serving food and they used to do a congregate setting, they’re now doing bag lunches for pickup so that people are, aren’t doing that in close proximity with each other.”

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The Westminster Rescue Mission is one example.

“Normally, the folks we serve come in to our pantry and are able to shop for what they need and what they like,” said Executive Director Stephanie Halley. “We’re now doing a drive-up service, still by appointment. We prepare boxes of food and give them to those who come, respecting social distance directives.”

TogetherWeOwnIt, a Westminster-based nonprofit that typically provides mentoring, support and recreational opportunities for at risk youth has been delivering meals and dog food to families that need them — more than 300 as of Thursday.

With Amanda Nipper of Finksburg, left, Katie Kirby, right, plates hot meals as Together We Own It and Rise Up Community Center distribute food for families and individuals in need in Westminster Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
With Amanda Nipper of Finksburg, left, Katie Kirby, right, plates hot meals as Together We Own It and Rise Up Community Center distribute food for families and individuals in need in Westminster Tuesday, March 24, 2020.(Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

“We’re still working with the same clientele but what we found is so many more people now are finding themselves in positions where they need services, either because of layoffs or because of temporary loss of jobs or lost wages,” Director Katelyn Kirby said. “We’ve had to amplify what we do and what we offer which has been exceeding the need in this particular situation.”

Hampstead’s Little Free Pantry is also operating, and since the pantry has always been a leave a donation, take a donation type of operation, it’s always been compatible with social distancing, according to Jennifer Greenwood, who helped her daughter Makenzie open the the pantry at St. John’s United Methodist Church in 2017.

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Makenzie Greenwood, 10, organizes donations in Hampstead's Little Free Pantry, her brainchild, before a dedication ceremony for the pantry, which was created with help from Venturing Crew 2013 at St. John's United Methodist Church in Hampstead Tuesday, May 16, 2017.
Makenzie Greenwood, 10, organizes donations in Hampstead's Little Free Pantry, her brainchild, before a dedication ceremony for the pantry, which was created with help from Venturing Crew 2013 at St. John's United Methodist Church in Hampstead Tuesday, May 16, 2017.(DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

“Hampstead’s Little Free pantry is operating as we always do. Neighbors leave donations for others to take as they need. There is never any direct contact between people at the pantry unless they happen to be there at the same time,” Jennifer wrote in an email. “We have volunteers going by to wipe down the pantry to help minimize the spread of germs.”

But while Carroll Food Sunday has supplied the Emergency Operations Food Collaborative for the time being, these other community food pantries do rely on donations and events which are now disrupted due to the novel corona virus.

“Our inventory relies solely on the generosity of others. A major event that is held each spring by the Unchained Few Motorcycle Club has been canceled. They usually collect enough donations to get us through the summer," Jennifer Greenwood wrote. “We’re worried about our ability to keep up with demand without this donation.”

Those who are able can still make donations at 1205 N. Main St., Hampstead, or send email to hampsteadslittlefreepantry@gmail.com for more information.

At the Rescue Mission, which typically serves about 100 families per week, the normal sources of food donations are also not flowing as they have before.

Westminster Rescue Mission
(Carroll County Times file)

“Our supply is decreasing. Some of the stores we pick up from do not have food to donate,” Halley wrote. “But we are making due and getting creative about how to serve in this time when there is even more need in our community.”

The Rescue Mission could also use financial donations at this time to help support all its nonprofit operations, according to Halley.

“We’ve had to close our thrift store temporarily, which is an important source of income for us and helps us to continue with not only our food operations but our Addiction Healing Center,” she wrote. “We’re working on ways to continue to accept food donations from the individuals in the community with decreased onsite staff and in safe ways.”

The Westminster Rescue Mission can be reached at 410-848-2222 or by sending email to info@westminsterrescuemission.org.

Those who would like to request a meal or to donate to TogetherWeOwnIt should visit www.togetherweownit.org/covid-19.

Anyone who thinks they or a family member might be showing coronavirus symptoms can call the Carroll County Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline, which is available 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. seven days a week at 410-876-4848, or contact their doctor. After hours, callers may leave a message or call 211. People with emergencies should continue to call 911.

Updates on the number of Maryland cases and other important information can be found on the health department’s COVID-19 webpage at cchd.maryland.gov/covid-19/.

Editors Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Celene Steckel. Steckel is the director of the Carroll County Department of Citizen Services.

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