Pandemic Poses Challenges for Food Pantry and its Clients

Feed Fannin volunteers load shopping carts with groceries and fresh produce to roll out to clients go the Food Pantry. This photo was taken in January at the Pantry's new and much larger facility at 501 Industrial Park Road in Blue Ridge, well before the coronavirus became a pandemic. Shown here are (l-r): Carlos Martel, Priscilla Chasman, Jeff Gorham, and (back to the camera) Carol Martel.

The first half of 2020 will go down as one of the most unsettling periods of time our country has ever faced and one that has harshly impacted local clients coming to the Family Connection Food Pantry. 

The pantry saw a huge surge of clientele in need as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing job losses as stores, restaurants and many other businesses were forced to shut down and residents and visitors were strongly encouraged to self-quarantine. In April, May and June, 657 families came for help; 112 of these families were first-time clients; and the total number of individuals served during this time period was 4,839.

“In terms of people served, this has been the largest year on record for us by far,” said Sherry Morris, executive director of Fannin County Family Connection, referring to the organization’s FY 2019-2020 that ended on June 30. The Pantry served 19,456 individuals during the year, an increase of 13.7 percent over the previous year. The number of families served was 7,050, a 16.2 percent increase. For 487 of these families, it was their first visit to the Pantry
Their needs were and are great, but the volunteers and staff have delivered nutritious food to each and every person who has needed it. No matter the demand, the shelves have stayed well stocked thanks to the vigilance of the tireless Pantry Manager, Greg Gelp, Feed Fannin ordering guru, Robin Frye, and the financial support of Feed Fannin, which pays 100 percent of the cost of food purchased from regional food banks.

By April, the Chattanooga Food Bank was not charging for milk orders for the Food Pantry, thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and the CARES Act. This has enabled Feed Fannin to save money on its usual milk orders. 

In fact, all the rest of Feed Fannin’s expenses for purchasing food for the pantry also were temporarily paused in April because the Chattanooga Food Bank, through its participation in the Feeding America Network, issued the Food Pantry a $12,000 grant for food purchases. It is unclear how long the federal COVID food assistance programs will last or if funding through the CARES Act will be extended or renewed, so this “free ride” may soon be discontinued.

Local grocers have not been donating as much fresh produce as usual during the pandemic, Morris said, so the Pantry will welcome any fruits and vegetables local residents can spare from their gardens. [Feed Fannin is exploring working with local farmers to purchase fresh produce.]
When the pandemic hit, Pantry volunteers and staff quickly adopted strategies to keep the food distribution process swift and safe for all workers and clients. Starting back in March, a drive-through delivery system was put into place and will be maintained at least through the summer so that clients don’t have to come inside. Thanks to generous donations of cleaning supplies and gloves from several local companies, all steps of the grocery deliveries are sanitized between each client.
Feed Fannin looks forward to a busy and fruitful summer. We also hope for the continued support of our loyal volunteers and faithful donors as we move our mission forward, no matter what obstacles we might face.

Priscilla Cashman, Food Pantry Liaison