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Area food banks, Emergency Aid prepare for holidays
This comes amid pandemic uncertainty
Food bank file pic
A volunteer unloads food boxes earlier this year at the Community Food Bank of Barton County. The food bank is one of several agencies which could see an increase in need for emergency services this holiday season. - photo by Great Bend Tribune file photo

As COVID-19 cases rises, Barton County agencies tasked with meeting the most urgent needs of the county’s residents are preparing for the unique challenges this year’s holiday season brings.

They still need the communities’ help to meet those needs, but at each of the organization, the needs, and how they are approaching those needs, differs.

Though Food Bank of Barton County Director Ruth Behrens has not seen increases in the overall number of people requesting services, she said the number of people who are requesting aid for the first time has grown.

While Behrens is not certain how the holidays will impact those numbers, she said the food bank is currently well-stocked due to recent Cram The Van events through Wheatland Electric Cooperative, and is prepared should increased needs for services arise.

But, the food bank’s operations and procedures have been significantly altered due to COVID-19.

Behrens said the food bank is operating with less than half the volunteer staff they normally do. Primarily, she said, this is to ensure the health and safety of volunteers, as well as those seeking services.

Prior to the pandemic, they operated with 12-13 volunteers at any given time. Right now they only work with about six, and are not currently in need of any more.  

Also, she said, the food bank is still requiring anyone seeking services to call ahead for an appointment on days the food bank is open. They are typically open from 1-3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Anyone seeking services can call any time after 12:30 p.m. on those days.

For anyone wishing to contribute to the food bank, Behrens said monetary donations are preferred, as any food donations received must be quarantined prior to distribution.

Donations can be mailed to the Food Bank’s office at 3007 10th St.

Barton County Emergency Aid

Nancy Sundahl from Barton County Emergency Aid said they have already seen a drastic increase requests for aid this year, and she expected requests to only increase further as the community moves into winter and the holiday season.

As the needs in the community grow, Sundahl wanted to get the word out to the community about what BCEA does, and how the community can help.

Barton County Emergency Aid is a local organization that primarily provides families in need with assistance in paying rent and utilities when they are unable to do so, Sundahl said. They also provide aid for transient families as well as the homeless. They also work with Volunteers in Action to help pay for travel expenses for clients of that organization to medical appointments.

She said, in particular, they have seen a dramatic increase in families seeking assistance with rent, as well as in aid to transient families displaced for various reasons.

And Sundahl expects that will increase further. Right now, she said, laws prevent landlords from evicting tenants for COVID-related economic hardships. When that regulation is lifted, however, and she does not know when that will be, she expects requests for aid will spike even further.

With needs growing so much due to COVID-19, though, one of the challenges the organization faces are the organization’s guidelines which only allow them to provide aid to individuals and families once per year. Sundahl said. If aid is required more than once in a year, families must have a referral from another local organization, such as a church, who can help confirm the special need.

However, this is where the community can step in, Sundahl said.

If a family has already received aid through the organization, and a member of the community still wants to be able to help that family, they can do so by calling the office and speaking with Office Manager Laura Williams, and earmarking contributions for a specific family.

Sundahl said Barton County Emergency Aid does have an endowment with Golden Belt Community Foundation in connection with Giving Tuesday coming in December, and welcomes donations through that, as well.

Though they are separate entities, both the Food Bank of Barton County and Barton County Emergency Aid are under the office of the Barton County Association of Churches, and their offices are housed in the same building at 3007 10th St. in Great Bend. Anyone wanting to contribute to either organization can send donations to that address, ensuring the donation is marked correctly for the entity of the donor’s choice.

Individuals can also contribute to those organizations through local churches, or through the Golden Belt Community Foundation.

Hoisington Food Bank

Jan Morganstern with the Hoisington Food Bank said so far, the organization has not seen a significant increase this year in people requesting aid over last year, but said the food bank is well-stocked right now should needs increase, thanks to a generous community.

“We’ve had a lot of donations and support,” Morganstern said.

She said, though, the Hoisington Food Bank typically experiences an increase in services during the holiday season and throughout the winter months, so donations are always welcome.

Along with normal services, the Hoisington Food Bank partners with the Hoisington Ministerial Alliance to provide Christmas food baskets, as well.

Morganstern said several local churches put the baskets together with holiday food for those who request it, and the food bank provides the hams for those baskets.

If someone is wants to make a food donation, the food bank asks for staples such as oil, flour, sugar, peanut butter, jelly, cereals, and other dry goods such as bread, macaroni and other canned and boxed goods. She said these foods are included in every donation, and are the items they tend to run low on most frequently.

However, they also accept monetary donations, which can be sent in care of the Hoisington Community Food Bank to First United Methodist Church, 467 W. 3rd St. in Hoisington, where the Hoisington Food Bank is headquartered.

At this time, Morganstern said, they are still only doing drive-through pickup at the food bank due to COVID-19 restrictions.

They are open the second Monday of the month from 2-4 p.m. and the fourth Monday of the month from 4-6 p.m.  The Hoisington Community Food Bank serves the community of Hoisington as well as northern Barton County.

Ellinwood Food Bank

To prepare for the holidays, the Ellinwood Food Bank is requesting donations of holiday staples such as pumpkin pie filling, boxed mashed potatoes, gravy mix and the like.

The food bank partners each year with Ellinwood Family Foods to provide ham or turkey vouchers to families in need for the holidays. Because the funds for this project are specifically earmarked, though, they are only able to provide as many vouchers as the fund will cover. Right now, said Ellinwood Food Bank Director Tammy Sturn, they have enough funds earmarked for this to provide 20 turkey vouchers, though they are asking monetary donations to be able to provide more.

Beyond holiday staples, though, Sturn said they also still need easy everyday meal items such as macaroni and cheese and dry pasta, as well.

Sturn said they have been aided throughout the summer with national and state programs designed to provide food aid during the COVID-19 crisis. One of those programs provides fruit and vegetable boxes to those in need. Also, Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) Commodities have gone from and every other month distributions to once-a-month distributions. 

With more people participating in those programs, Sturn said they have not seen significant food shortages. This has kept food bank participation fairly steady.

They do, however, typically see an increase in services beginning during the holiday season and continuing through the early parts of the following year. This is a time when increased donations are crucial, she said.

She said the easiest way for people to drop off food donations is to drop them off at the food bank’s location at Immanuel United Church of Christ, 701 N. Fritz Ave., Ellinwood, during their operating hours, which are Mondays from 3-5 p.m. and Thursday from 5-7 p.m. 

However, if they are unable to make it during those times, donations can also be left with any local church or picked up by food bank staff by calling and leaving a message at 620-564-2597 or 620-564-3044.

For individuals seeking services from one of these agencies, or for those looking to donate, full contact information and operating hours is provided below:

Barton County Emergency Aid

Phone: 620-793-3345

Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 8:30-11:30 a.m. (Operating hours)

3007 10th St., Great Bend

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

Phone: 620-564-2597 or 620-564-3044

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