How the pandemic is impacting the last mile meals
Through laughter, Sue Zimmerman-Hults, her husband, Chuck, and Pastor Art Evens, join fellow volunteers on a cool winter morning as they pack valuable meals into vehicles that will help feed more than 50 households throughout Chemung County.
The group of volunteers from Oakwood United Methodist Church Food Pantry and Community Wesleyan Church have worked together each week since August to deliver meals to those home-bound or who lack access to a vehicle.
“Before the pandemic, our groups were both working to fight hunger in our respective communities,” shared Pastor Evens, Community Wesleyan Church. “While we were both offering separate outreach initiatives (a pantry and meal site), we have always been focused on helping others.”
As the pandemic unfolded, Sue, Oakwood UMC Food Pantry coordinator, worked with her steadfast team of volunteers to keep the food pantry open, which meant shifting operations to a drive-thru distribution, in addition to ramping up sanitation procedures.
“Our number one goal has always been to stay open so we can serve our community and to be safe while doing it. We were able to remain open, while many meal sites and pantries had to close, and for that we are grateful,” said Sue.
On average, Oakwood UMC Food Pantry served about 60 households every week and does not have residency restrictions.
At the same time, Community Wesleyan Church volunteers delivered emergency food boxes from the Food Bank’s Community Food Distribution to Chemung County residents who were home-bound or lacked access to a vehicle.
“We know that there can be many obstacles in gaining access to food, especially in a rural area, during a pandemic. When we put the call out, we had over 30 individuals in our congregation volunteer,” reflected Pastor Evens.
As the Food Bank of the Southern Tier began to transition back to hosting Mobile Food Pantries throughout the six-county service area, it seemed like a natural fit for Oakwood UMC Food Pantry and Community Wesleyan Church to continue to partner to help distribute food.
“The Food Bank approached us about the idea, and how do you say no to extending our reach? It was an immediate ‘yes’ because we know that someone needs to help fulfill the last mile meals,” explained Sue.
Every Thursday, volunteers at Oakwood UMC Food Pantry prepare extra meal boxes filled with perishable and nonperishable goods during their normal pantry hours. The next day, Pastor Evens and his team pick up and deliver the boxes.
“Since August, our team has traveled 3,000 miles, delivering to an average of 50 households each week. More importantly, we’ve built deep relationships. In addition to meals, we can help these households with other needs – sometimes it’s prayer, sometimes it is a working refrigerator,” said Pastor Evens.
When asked what the future holds, they both agreed that it is unknown, but this partnership is just the beginning of an intentional fight against hunger.
“Together, we are offering a hand-up – not a hand-out. Until we are in a position to no longer offer a hand up, we’ll be supporting our neighbors,” said Chuck.