Food pantries revise procedures amid COVID-19 outbreak

CASSOPOLIS — For the first time in Mary Tompi’s 15 years working at Helping Hands in Cassopolis, the nonprofit’s thrift store has closed its doors to foot traffic.

Like so many organizations across the country, Helping Hands closed the thrift store as a precautionary measure to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The decision was a difficult one, as need for food from the nonprofit’s food pantry will only rise during the continued social distancing mandate.

Food pantries across Cass County, including Helping Hands and the Edwardsburg Food Pantry, have limited donations to drive-up only. Groceries will be prepackaged at both locations. Helping Hands organizers are asking those receiving donations to set up appointments before receiving or dropping off donations.

“I can speak for everyone involved with the organization when I state that we are sorry for any inconvenience, but for the safety of our volunteers, staff, their families and yours, we are implementing these procedures immediately,” said Tompi, manager of Helping Hands. “We are very grateful for your patronage and sincerely hope these health threats are over soon so we may continue business as usual by opening our doors back up to all our faithful friends and customers.”

The Edwardsburg Food Pantry is typically open from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Our Lady of the Lake Church, 24832 U.S. Highway 12 in Edwardsburg.

“In addition to that, we are also going to offer for others in the community on April 4 special Saturday hours,” said Amy Traxler, Edwardsburg pantry coordinator.

Those in need of food in the Edwardsburg School District and village of Union may visit from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. that Saturday, just as they would during other donation windows. Those needing assistance will receive prepacked grocery bags.

To protect staff and patrons, Helping Hands asks that all clients requesting assistance with food must have a referral, which can be obtained through the Department of Human Services or by calling 2-1-1.

Helping Hands pantry hours will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 130 S. Broadway St., Cassopolis. Hours of operation are subject to change.

Helping Hands clients must come to the back door and ring the doorbell for service. Once the client is checked in, they must return to their vehicle, and a food box will be brought out to them.

“People on foot will be asked to remain outside the building while their box is being packed,” Tompi said.

The Helping Hands manager said families are facing additional economic strain as they have to feed children who are not receiving lunch from school. The organization facilitates a Red Backpack Program in which at-risk students take home a backpack full of snacks.

“Food stamps are being used up more quickly than usual, and they have two weeks before they receive the next round,” Tompi said. “If parents are hurting, we just ask that they call and make an appointment to come in.”

Families in both Cassopolis and Edwardsburg are encouraged to take advantage of the meals being provided by the school districts.

“We’re running low on different backpack items that the kids would use,” she said. “Even though the backpacks are usually weekend food, it’s all week food they need.”

Tompi said items running low include snack foods like juice boxes and raisins.

Those wishing to make donations in Cassopolis are asked to call Helping Hands of Cass County at (269) 445-8104 to arrange drop-off.

“Meijer has been very generous in helping us, and we are hesitant to ask for donations from individual households just because of the handling of items,” Traxler said of the Edwardsburg Food Pantry. “The best thing that anyone could do is make monetary donations.”

Donation checks may be written out to EFP and mailed to Our Lady of the Lake Church, 24832 U.S. Highway 12, Edwardsburg, Michigan.