One by one and 6 feet apart, community members picked up meals in styrofoam boxes from Kay’s Kitchen at St. Martin Community Center in Marion and went their separate ways.
Unlike the usual, warm dining room, the St. Martin parking lot was lined with people waiting for their lunch on Tuesday morning.
“It’s busy,” said Joe Anderson, a St. Martin volunteer. “People need help. People need food.”
The people in line, according to Anderson, are scared because of the spread of the coronavirus.
“We’re doing all we can to ease their fears and make sure they’re eating,” Anderson said. “When you’re scared, and you don’t have a full stomach, things get a little worse.”
The St. Martin thrift store recently closed because it is considered non-essential, and donations are down, according to the executive director of St. Martin, Teresa Campbell.
Campbell said fewer people have come to the food kitchen since the buses stopped running, but they are still serving between 300-325 meals every day.
Due to safety regulations, meals must be served in disposable containers.
“Those disposables are really expensive,” Campbell said. “Once the word came out that restaurants were closed, these disposables were like gold. You couldn’t get a hold of them.”
Campbell said she recently spent $1,000 on disposable packaging for meals, a cost they did not know was coming.
St. Martin’s most significant needs are milk, eggs and monetary donations, according to Campbell. Another significant need is a sturdy tent or awning for the rainy spring days.
“Meals are served outside, and the rain is an issue,” Campbell said. “It rains nearly every day now.”
When it rains, Campbell said their only option is to move the tables closer to the building, which makes social distancing more difficult.
The St. Martin team is working hard to follow the recommendations from the CDC and the health department to ensure that they are not catching or spreading the virus.
“We’re really down to a very small crew so we can still serve the people and stay healthy,” Campbell said. “If one of us gets sick, then the whole group is out because we will be on two-week quarantine. So we’re really very much trying to stay very healthy.”
Campbell said this has been a learning process for her team and the families that rely on them for meals.
“The people we serve are marginal on a good day, and these days are even harder for them,” Campbell said. “But through all of this, they are super kind and encouraging and just grateful that we are there doing it.”
St. Martin typically feeds many children because it is a feeding site for the summer food program for children while school is out.
Fifty to 60 children come to St. Martin for meals every day.
“We have a lot of kids that are a part of our network to help,” Campbell said. “Families are keeping them home, and I’m really glad to see that. They are taking (the coronavirus) seriously with their children.”
Without public transportation, people are having a harder time reaching St. Martin for their meals.
“Many of them are homeless. These people, most generally, walk to us every day. They don’t have vehicles, and with the bus lines not running, it’s an extra hardship,” Campbell said. “They really do need the food.”
In addition to the food kitchen, St. Martin has been offering take-away food pantry boxes once a week for the past two weeks.
Volunteers pack boxes with meat, canned goods, cornmeal, sugar, diapers, feminine products and a roll of toilet paper and leave them at the edge of the property for people to take home.
“It’s just a way to get those items out into the community,” Campbell said. “If they can’t use it, maybe they know someone who can.”
Campbell said she would announce the next food pantry box take-away on Facebook.
St. Martin is not receiving donations for the food pantry or the thrift store at this time.
Online donations may be made at saintmartincenter.com.
“Our families are being very kind. They are very grateful for anything that we do for them,” Campbell said. “They tell me they know that we don’t have to do this and that we put ourselves at risk by being out there to help feed them.”