MICHIGAN CITY — Many supermarket shelves remain empty. Schools are closed for a month or more. Dine-in service at restaurants has been canceled indefinitely.
Whether the result of precaution or of panic, serious obstacles to obtaining food exist for many Americans during this period of nationwide social distancing.
But in Michigan City, volunteers are banding together to make sure the community’s most vulnerable populations don’t go hungry.
“I want people to know that even though we’re in a time of crisis, they’re still important to us and that we’re going to take care of them,” said Erik Tannehill, a local chef who runs the soup kitchen at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
Normally, the city’s homeless and food-insecure are able to eat lunch at one of six local churches that collaborate to offer soup kitchens seven days weekly.
However, most of those churches have suspended their kitchen services as a precaution against spreading COVID-19.
“First, the plan was to welcome 25 people at a time for 15 minutes; then sanitize; then let in another 25, and serve them in shifts,” Tannehill said. “But then yesterday, the government said groups of no more than 10. So, we had to make a couple quick decisions.”
The chef and a group of volunteers wound up serving a hot to-go meal of corned beef and cabbage from the parking lot across from First United Methodist Church between noon and 1 p.m. Tuesday.
For at least the next week, Tannehill said, they will continue to serve meals at the same time and location – 7th Street between Franklin and Pine streets – and will alternate daily between serving cold sack lunches and hot meals.
Anyone wishing to volunteer or donate food or supplies should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Specific needs include sliced deli meat, cheese, bottled water, canned beverages, fresh fruit, potato chips, pudding cups – anything that can be packed in a sack lunch and eaten in a public space without the need for a can opener or heat.
The food pantry at the Salvation Army of Michigan City operated under normal hours Tuesday and will again on Thursday, but will likely add extended hours in the coming weeks to accommodate the growing number of people they anticipate will require services as a result of COVID-19-related layoffs.
“We know people are desperate right now due to kids being out of school and people being out of work,” Major Becky Simmons said. “I know there may be some relief down the line, but for right now, people are unable to buy groceries for the week.”
Normally, the organization’s food pantry serves 60 families per day, she said. But on Tuesday, 84 families showed up.
“We’re trying to be as safe as we can and keep people from coming in the building and congregating,” Simmons said.
So, for as long as the country is advised to practice social distancing, the Salvation Army food pantry at 1201 Franklin St. will operate as a drive-thru service from the back alley door.
For safety reasons and efficiency, Simmons asked that those who do drive through enter the alley from Washington Street and exit onto Franklin Street.
She urged sick people not to attend, but to call the Salvation Army at 219-874-6885 to make special arrangements.
“Everybody was extremely gracious and patient and appreciative, and just really in good spirits Tuesday,” Simmons said. “I was really impressed with the attitudes of those we served.”
Diaper bank services and Pathway of Hope remain open during this time, but by appointment only.
“The Salvation Army has historically been present and active during times of disaster,” Simmons said. “And although this is a unique one, we still plan to hold true on that tradition and be there for those who are in need.”
Local schools also spent the past few days preparing meals to send home with hundreds of local students, many of whom usually eat breakfast and lunch at school.
“We know these are turbulent times,” said Nicole Santana, assistant food service director at Michigan City Area Schools.
“We see our kids every day. We’re still worried about them. We want to make sure they get fed and that there’s no interruption in their daily nutrition. We need to come together as a community.”
MCAS spent Tuesday bagging up 10,000 individual meals to supplement the food that students have at home. And they distributed three days’ worth of those meals from four schools and five bus stops on Wednesday.
Going forward, meals for MCAS students may be picked up between 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. on Monday, March 23, and Monday, March 30, at the following locations:
Barker Middle School, 319 Barker Rd.
Krueger Middle School, 2001 Springland Ave.
Elston building, enter at Pine and Ripley streets
Knapp Elementary School, 321 Bolka Ave.