Food Pantries

PREPARED: Jean Stewart stocks canned goods at the Ashland Food Pantry on Saturday. The facility has not seen an increase in use yet, but Stewart said she is prepared. (Staff Photo by Suzi Nelson)

ASHLAND – The number of families turning to local food pantries in Ashland hasn’t increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that could change in the next couple of weeks.

“I think it will pick up in the next few weeks,” said Jean Stewart, who runs the Ashland Food Pantry located at the VFW Hall.

One reason the need has not increased is that the school district is supplying the students with meals. Since classes were cancelled in mid-March, the school has provided a week’s worth of lunches to families on Mondays.

For some families, those lunches aren’t quite enough. Stewart said she’s had a couple of families come in, saying their kids are “eating them out of house and home.”

Layoffs are beginning, however, and that may have an effect on how many families look to the pantry for their next meal. Stewart said a single mom came to the pantry recently after she was laid off. A single dad came for food when his job was furloughed as well, she added.

Even before the pandemic threat began, families have relied on the Ashland Food Pantry for help in difficult times. The Country Food Pantry was established during the 1980s as the community was devastated by flooding. Food was donated by the schools, churches, Scout troops, individuals and organizations and was supplemented by VFW Post 9776 and its Auxiliary. The name was later changed to the Ashland Food Pantry.

In anticipation of the increased number of families who will need items from the food pantry, one local business has launched a food drive. On Saturday, BWs Pub and Grill owner Brian Whitehead made the announcement on Facebook. For every nonperishable food item brought to the restaurant, they will give put the customer’s name in for a drawing to win three $100 gift cards.

“I’m pleased that he wanted to do that,” said Stewart.

Whitehead listed a number of items needed by the pantry, including pasta sauces, canned vegetables and soups. Stewart said the pantry will accept any items that are donated, but they are short on canned fruit and in dire need of toilet paper.

“I used to give people four rolls of tissue, now I’ve cut them to two,” she said.

Monetary donations are also welcome, Stewart said. She uses the funds to purchase items that they are short of, as well as perishable goods like milk and meat.

“It fills in the gaps,” she said.

The Ashland Food Pantry is open by appointment only. Stewart can be reached at 402-944-3483.

The number of families coming to the weekly Kids Cupboard food giveaway at American Lutheran Church has also not changed yet, said Bette McCoy, one of the founders. However, she and the other volunteers who organize the effort realize that could change any day.

“We’re playing it by ear,” she said.

For the past six years, members of several local churches have joined forces to provide food for children in the community. Although located in American Lutheran Church, it is an ecumenical effort that involves most of the churches in the area. The group of about 20 volunteers who run the program includes people from several different congregations.

Initially the goal of the Kids Cupboard was to provide food twice a month in the summer months. The focus was on families that qualify for free and reduced-priced meals during the school year who may struggle to feed their children when school is out, according McCoy. They quickly expanded the offering to once a week throughout the year.

As a result of COVID-19, the Kids Cupboard organizers have changed the way they distribute the food. McCoy said they have the families come in one at a time. The food is set out on tables and the families can take what they want. The tables are disinfected between families.

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