In addition to the horrific death toll, the COVID-19 pandemic left countless people hurting, unemployed and hungry.
Almost overnight, the ReNewed Hope Food Pantry in Overland Park, Kansas, felt the surge. Operated by the New Haven Church, the food pantry is one of 60,000 pantries in the Feeding America network, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization.
Less than a month into the stay-at-home orders, the pantry was feeding nearly five times the number of families it served during the same period the previous year. In mid-April, 841 families were fed in one week. That represented 4,450 individuals, with half of them being children.
To accommodate the increased volume, and also to protect the volunteers, the pantry’s leaders changed how they operated. Instead of providing a walk-in pantry, the entire operation moved to a drive-through service. Each week, cars drive through and have boxes of food placed in their trunks. They are also given opportunities to submit prayer requests.
About 80 volunteers per week make the pantry operate smoothly. All the while, they practice social distancing, sanitize frequently and wear gloves and masks. The volunteers are easily identified by their green team shirts which display the message, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8.”
Karen Whitson, pantry director, reports, “Many of our core volunteers were retired individuals and unable to work because of being in the high-risk category for the virus. Pastor Mark Tamaleaa recruited young adult volunteers to step up and fill that void.”
Whitson points out that half of the volunteers are community individuals who are not members of the church. “They are part of our church family,” she says. “Many have visited the church on Sabbath and some were coming regularly before the stay-at-home orders went into effect.”
The New Haven Church has operated the ReNewed Hope Food Pantry since 2014, and is involved with other outreach ministries including a clothes closet and a program to house homeless families at the church.
Duane Hallock is a member of the New Haven Church in Overland Park, Kansas.