The impact of COVID on area food banks

Food banks in Highlands have had to adjust to the ‘new normal’ that came with life in a pandemic just like virtually everyone else. With the rise in unemployment over the last few months, food banks across the country have seen a surge in demand for their services, and Highlands is no exception.

The Highlands Food Pantry, which is a program at the International Friendship Center, has had to alter the way they distribute food to their clients. They now offer a box program for their clients instead of their normal client serve shopping process. Clients are often left with food they don’t want with this new program, so the food pantry is encouraging them to share what they don’t want with their neighbors.

While some volunteers had to take a leave in light of COVID, according to the Director of the Highlands Food Pantry, Marty Rosenfield, the food bank has seen a surge in willing and able volunteers in recent months.

Highlands Food Pantry entrance is located at the rear-lower level of the Highlands United Methodist Church.

“It takes a village, and Highlands has no lack of stepping up and volunteering,” Rosenfield said.

When the virus hit, the Highlands Food Pantry saw a decrease in demand from clients located outside of the Town of Highlands, but an increase in demand from Highlands residents. 

Rosenfield managed to stay ahead of the food shortages by stocking up on items before the shelves were wiped clean.

“I didn’t know where this was all going, so I immediately decided that I was going to try to bring in a six-week supply of everything . . . so I have not been hurting for distribution items,” Rosenfield said.

The Highlands Food Pantry is primarily funded through donations, and they have seen a significant increase in donations over the past few months. Cullasaja Country Club, in particular, has collected a considerable number of donations for the food pantry. According to Rosenfield, a number of the country club’s residents have given thousands in personal donations.

In order to honor social distancing precautions, the Highlands Food Pantry is only allowing three or four volunteers in the building at a time and requiring that they stay six to eight feet apart. They are always accepting donations that allow them to continue to provide their services to those in need in the community. 

Highlands Food Pantry is open Mondays from 3:30-5 p.m.

You can donate food and money and get more information on becoming a volunteer at their website, internationalfriendshipcenter.org. They are located at 348 S 5th St, Highlands, North Carolina and are open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. or by appointment.

The Highlands Emergency Council has also experienced an increased demand for their services. In May, the Emergency Council was providing goods to 80 families, twice a month, and now the number of families the Emergency Council is helping has skyrocketed to 200+ families, twice a month.

In order to keep volunteers safe, the floor at the Emergency Council has been marked by tape with the appropriate distance to keep between individuals in order to respect social distancing precautions. Additionally, most volunteers wear a mask during their shifts, and only three customers are allowed in the building at one time. Food boxes are set outside of the door for a no-contact pickup process for customers.

Maryanne Creswell, the Emergency Council’s Program/Project Coordinator, said that although they are anticipating a decrease in funds due to the cancelation of their fundraising events, the Emergency Council is still committed to serving the people of Highlands.

“We’ve been doing this since ’85, and we’re still hanging in there doing the best we can,” Creswell said.

The Emergency Council is always looking for more volunteers. For information on how you can get involved by donating food or funds please call (828) 526-4357. They are located at 71 Poplar St, Highlands, North Carolina and are open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Pictured at the top of the article is the Highlands Food pantry located in the rear basement of the Highlands United Methodist Church.

By Andie Chilson

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