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Barton County food banks respond to COVID-19
Volunteers adapt to pandemic procedures
Food bank volunteer
A protected volunteer loads food onto a truck at the Community Food Bank of Barton County in Great Bend last week. Food banks in Great Bend, Hoisington and Ellinwood have seen changes in both procedure and demand as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

As the county’s three food banks in Great Bend, Hoisington and Ellinwood adapt to the COVID-19 crisis, Community Food Bank of Barton County President Ruth Behrens said the demand for the Great Bend food bank’s services has been the opposite of what she anticipated as the community adjusts to the stay-at-home mandates. 

“We’re running with less people right now,” Behrens said. “We were busy for the first two days, and since then we’ve had very few people (seeking services).”

This pattern was echoed by Tammy Sturn, who heads the Ellinwood Food Bank.

“For the last two weeks, (we have) been experiencing a drop in the number of patrons coming for food,” Sturn said.

She believes there are a couple of different reasons demand has dropped. 

One reason, she believes, is the statewide stay-at-home order may be causing fewer people to leave their homes to seek services. Also, she said, it may be because the full financial impact of the order has not yet reached Barton County. 

“As workers stay at home longer, needs will increase,” Sturn said.

Behrens believes advance preparation by residents stocking up on food prior to the order taking effect may have played a role, as well.

Jan Morgenstern, who operates the Hoisington Food Bank, has had the opposite experience, saying the number of households they have served has increased since the crisis began.

“Some of the clients have used the food bank before; however, some are new to our food bank,” Morgenstern said. “A few were without a job at the present time.”

Changes in Operating Procedure

One thing all three food banks have experienced, though, is drastic changes in how they operate and how they distribute food to patrons.

The food banks in Hoisington and Great Bend have both moved to “curb-side” pickup for the protection of both patrons and volunteers.

“We ask clients to come to the east parking lot (of First United Methodist Church in Hoisington) and to stay in their vehicles,” Morgenstern said. “We will fill out the paperwork for them. Then we will bring their order to the parking lot and they will need to put it in their vehicle. The orders are packaged according to family size.” 

In order to be served, she said clients will need ID, proof of residency and the names and ages of all people in the household. The Hoisington food bank’s service area is limited to Hoisington and northern Barton County, from Barton Hills north. 

In Great Bend, they are asking patrons to call ahead for pickup appointments, so the food bank can determine household size and have the orders prepared ahead of time. They will bring the orders to the vehicles when the patrons arrive.

Ellinwood’s food bank is taking a different approach.

According to Sturn, they are asking patrons to call the food bank and place orders over the phone, and orders will be delivered to patrons’ porches during normal operating hours.

All three food banks are limiting volunteer numbers to comply with state mandates and limit potential spread of the novel coronavirus.

Hoisington’s food bank, which according to Morgenstern is run by its board members and a few volunteers, is limiting is staff to between four and five board members at a time. 

According to Sturn, in Ellinwood, where a staff of volunteers normally works the same shift each month, only the food bank manager is going into the food bank to fill orders at this time.

Community support and donation changes

For individuals wanting to support the food banks, all three are asking donations to be limited to monetary donations only.

Behrens said that due to procedure changes, any food Great Bend’s food bank receives or purchases right now is being quarantined for a period of time before it is distributed to ensure the food’s safety.

She said the food bank in Great Bend also receives food donations from Walmart and Dillons through the Feeding America program, which allows retailers to pass on food that is unsold but still safe to consume, to be donated to food banks to help those in need.

Procedures for donation have also changed in Ellinwood.

“In the past, churches and individuals have brought bags of food items to the food bank or church to be distributed,” Sturn said. 

Currently, though, she is instead encouraging donations to be mailed or given directly to Ellinwood Family Foods, and earmarked for the food bank. The store will then order foods the food bank needs in bulk, and volunteers will pick up the food, still in the distributor’s plastic, curb-side at the store, keeping human contact with the food to a minimum.

Sturn said the Ellinwood Food Bank’s greatest need currently is monetary donations for a fund which allows them to include a $25 food voucher with each patron’s order, a fund which she said is almost depleted. Donations for this fund can be mailed to St. John Lutheran Church, 512 N. Wilhelm, Ellinwood, KS 67526.

Sturn said the community has been very supportive.

“As always Ellinwood community members are generously donating,” she said.

Morgenstern also lauded the community of Hoisington for its support of the food bank.

“The community of Hoisington has stepped up as usual and has been very supportive,” Morgenstern said. “We would like to thank the community for all the support, and our clients for their understanding.”

Area food banks open

For individuals seeking services from one of Barton County’s food banks, or for those looking to donate, full contact information and operating hours is provided below:

Community Food Bank of Barton County

3007 10th St., Great Bend

Phone: 620-792-4001

Open Monday, Wednesday and Friday 1-3 p.m. (Call ahead of time on Monday, Wednesday or Friday for an appointment)

Hoisington Food Bank

467 W. 3rd St., Hoisington (Basement of First United Methodist Church)

Phone: 620-653-2119 (Methodist Church (Available Tuesday-Thursday 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m.)

Open the second Monday of the month from 2-4 p.m. and the fourth Monday of the month from 4-6 p.m.

Ellinwood Food Bank

Immanuel United Church of Christ, 701 N. Fritz, Ellinwood (Currently only doing porch-side delivery services)

Phone: 620-564-2597 (Call this number temporarily)/ 620-564-3044 (Normal number)

Operates Mondays 3-5 p.m. and Thursdays 5-7 p.m.