In the wake of COVID-19, meal providers such as the Vermillion Food Pantry and the Vermillion Welcome Table have been forced to close their physical doors. Despite the drawback, these food services are continuing to provide meals to people in need.
The Vermillion Food Pantry ceased walk-in services after the Community Connection Center of Vermillion — the building in which the pantry is located — closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. On March 16, the pantry began delivering boxes of food to families in need, Theresa McDowell Johnson, director of the pantry, said.
The boxes are prepared based on family size and contain nonperishable food items, as well as any available meat, produce and bread. The pantry has distributed 110 boxes so far, which McDowell Johnson said is more food than the pantry would typically donate at this point in an average month.
“We typically have between 250 to 275 families come to the pantry, so we’re up a little from where we would be. I anticipated that because we’re also servicing individuals that would perhaps go to Tanager Takeout,” McDowell Johnson said. “We have various students that have also been coming to the pantry because they had anticipated getting some meals with USD Dining but can’t because of limited hours.”
With the Food Pantry’s physical location closed, the service is relying on monetary donations to buy food wholesale rather than collecting food from the public. Donations are being accepted at CorTrust Bank.
“It’s easier for us if individuals would donate funds,” McDowell Johnson said. “Even if they give us $5, we’re able to stretch those dollars. We’re able to buy food for at least six people.”
Despite the situation, McDowell Johnson said the Food Pantry will distribute food for a long time.
“Clay County and Vermillion have always been a very generous community,” McDowell Johnson said. “I think we will be able to go for an extended period of time.”
The Vermillion Welcome Table — a service that provides free meals every Monday night — has been put on hiatus. The Welcome Table switched to carry-out dining on March 9, which continued until March 23, when the service was suspended, John Lushbough, head of the Vermillion Welcome Table, said.
“We decided to cancel, mainly because we had no way of ensuring the safety of people that were putting the meal together and people that were coming to get the meal,” Lushbough said.
Tanager Takeout and the Weekend Backpack Program, two services for food-insecure students overseen by a partnership between the Welcome Table and the Vermillion School District, have also been suspended due to school closures. The school district is offering free breakfasts and lunches at the Middle School for children 18 and under from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every weekday.
Lushbough said the Welcome Table plans to reactivate Tanager Takeout and offer services at the same time as these free meals. In the meantime, the Welcome Table has donated its resources to the Vermillion Food Pantry and is encouraging families to go to the Food Pantry.
Several weeks into the pandemic, the Welcome Table plans to stay on hiatus indefinitely. The Welcome Table is considering resuming operations in the summer, but Lushbough said these plans are tentative.
“It’ll be another four (weeks) at the minimum,” Lushbough said. “I can’t imagine we’re going to feel comfortable doing anything before the end of May. It’s just too early to tell right now.”
The Weekend Backpack Program is also shut down and the Welcome Table continues to direct people in need to the food pantry.
The Welcome Table is conducting weekly Zoom meetings every Monday — the day it would normally be open — and invites everyone who is interested to join the digital gathering.
“What I miss most about Welcome Table is the gathering of people,” Lushbough said. “I think food is a secondary concern and we really miss the people that we have as guests.”