BARRE — It’s barely April, but starting to look like mid-September in the food pantry at the Salvation Army’s headquarters on Keith Avenue.
Credit COVID-19, because demand linked to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has severely depleted a food pantry that is restocked like clockwork each November thanks to the generosity of central Vermonters who have been donating to the popular “Stuff-A-Truck” campaign for nearly two decades.
Started by a local radio station, the campaign typically generates a full year’s worth of food for the local Salvation Army, but Lt. Chris West said Monday the 2020 edition literally won’t come fast enough.
“Our supplies are running tremendously low,” said West, who knows the seasonal feel of a food pantry that has already blown through spring and summer and is nearing the end of foliage season.
“If we keep up at this rate we’ll be out of food by the end of April, possibly early May,” he said. “We’re just seeing a lot of families that are more in need and more vulnerable people requesting our services.
Though the food pantry is now technically off-limits, West said “foot traffic is up” on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays when food is left outside by appointment for those who need it.
Then there is the growing number of area residents – many of them “high risk” Vermonters – who are having food delivered to their doorsteps.
West said the Salvation Amy’s large cargo van is being loaded up with boxes and bags of food on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays so that they can be dropped off to people where they live. The “mobile food shelf,” which was launched in response to an immediate need has become increasingly popular – particularly among vulnerable residents who are heeding requests they stay home and stay safe.
“We’re just trying to do everything we can do to be very active and help the community in every way we possibly can,” he said.
That includes preparing up to 230 lunches three days a week as part of a collaborative spearheaded by Capstone Community Action to provide three meals a day, seven days a week to homeless residents now being put up in area motels.
It also means continuing to operate its soup kitchen, albeit in “curbside” style, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
West said that means cranking out up to 300 meals on those three days of the week – an operation that doesn’t directly deplete the food pantry, but is a drain on resources available to purchase food from the Vermont Foodbank to fill in gaps that typically surface much later in the year when there is still plenty of pasta, but not enough sauce.
Though West knows the current pace isn’t sustainable for much longer, he isn’t complaining.
“We’re just hoping for things to slow down,” he said. “I guess – like everyone else – we’re just taking things one day at a time and doing what we can to help people.”
West wouldn’t refuse help – the kind the Salvation Army receives every November since “Stuff-A-Truck” was started.
Those – from residents or restaurants – willing to make food donations, should call 476-5301 to make arrangements. Money is also useful for purchasing food from the Vermont Foodbank. Checks made payable to the Salvation Army with “food pantry” in the memo line, can be mailed to the Salvation Army, P.O. Box 375, Barre, VT, 05641.