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A Time of Need: The Time to Give

Published on 12/02/2021
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Anne Pilson
LCS Board Member

I originally came to volunteer at LCS in August 2020 after seeing a request on Nextdoor for extra hands at the St. Stephen’s food pantry. COVID-19 had let up a little, and I felt I had to do something to make the situation better, even incrementally so. Plus, St Stephen’s is close to my house. How could it hurt to see what it was all about? On the very first day, I was struck by how kind, practical, and immediate the response to clients’ food insecurity was. For a year, I have worked two shifts a week, taking orders, running the window, delivering food to people’s cars, or packing bags. In time, I roped my daughter to join me and solicited neighbors and friends to pitch in. All of us agree that the pantry is a special place, and it has been for over 25 years.

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Several volunteers who worked there pre-COVID noted that the clientele shifted with the pandemic. Suddenly, regulars for years, even a decade, were no longer stopping by, while more and more new families arrived. Thanks to the USDA, Food Bank of Delaware, several local ACME stores, Good Shepherd’s garden, and countless local individuals, we had plenty of food, toiletries, fresh produce and more to provide to everyone who came to the door. A new partnership with Sprouts allowed us to tuck prepared meals, an extra cut of meat, newly baked bread, and sweet treats into the boxes and bags we packed. Kind neighbors dropped off diapers and baby wipes. Minutes later, we were sending them out the door to a mother with two toddlers. The flow of necessities to those in need was so efficient and direct that it was impossible not to feel like I was making a difference. 

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While the grassroots nature of work at the pantry continues to appeal to me, a few months ago, I got the opportunity to join LCS as a Board member. Now I can zoom in on what’s going on at the ground level at St. Stephen’s and zoom out to consider LCS as a whole. For the last month, I have been filling in at the pantry on Wednesday evenings, a shift that was new to me. Week after week, I am struck by the number of clients signing up for the first time or needing to renew their registration. Typically, we renew clients’ registration once a year, starting July 1. Here we were in October, and family after family was arriving who had not visited since 2019. Based on what I saw, half of those served on recent Wednesday evenings were people who did not need us the last year and half.

Although the anecdotal evidence was compelling, I wondered if the data backed up my observations.  Kanchalee Reeves, the incredibly competent manager of the St. Stephen’s pantry, confirmed that numbers are up. In fact, the number of families served in the month of October by the pantry surpassed those at the height of COVID. Recently, ABC’s Channel 47 reported that food banks across the Delmarva Peninsula were experiencing a surge in demand (Food banks dealing with demand increases across Delmarva - 47abc). The timing of this rise in need coincides with eviction and utility bill moratoriums coming to an end as well as unemployment and SNAP benefits returning to pre-pandemic levels. Couple the return of typical financial pressures with the rise in inflation and commodity shortages, and it is not surprising that food insecurity has spiked and most likely will continue to do so. 

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The question is how the continuing reverberations of the pandemic will impact local nonprofits like LCS and the clients they serve. On October 27, 2021, The New York Times reported how rising food prices most impact the vulnerable and how they are straining the support organizations that address food insecurity, like St. Stephen’s(Higher Food Prices Hit the Poor and Those Who Help Them). While there is this story or the one by ABC story, I fear crisis fatigue has set in. Scrolling through the daily newspaper, I see the headline, “Virus” and find myself skipping down to the next section. As the 20th month of the pandemic starts, the national attention is eager to turn to “newer” news. And yet, the effects of the pandemic are impacting many and will for some time to come.

Helping clients move from emergency to empowerment lies at the heart of LCS’s mission. With aid monies drying up, prices rising, community giving returning to pre-COVID norms, and need mounting, the challenge of doing that is considerable. That said, it is not insurmountable, especially if we act together. November is the time to give thanks for all the generosity and kindness shown by so many to date. And December is the time to give. I hope you will join me in giving more to St. Stephen’s, LCS, and those in our community in this time of need.

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