Local food pantries see uptick in March

Worthington Christian Church Food Shelf and Manna Food Pantry, both in Worthington, reported increases in clients in March as COVID-19 keeps kids at home and hundreds of adults from work.

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At the Worthington Christian Church Food Pantry LeAnn Thiner and Douglas Johnson packing boxes of food for afternoon distribution. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Both the Worthington Christian Church Food Shelf and Manna Food Pantry saw spikes in clients in March as hundreds of people lost their income when “non-essential” businesses were instructed to temporarily close due to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic.

LeAnn Thiner said the number of people seeking food assistance at the Worthington Chrisitian Church Food Shelf on North Douglas Avenue increased by 25 households (more than 150 individuals) last month. The growth is similar to what the food shelf sees each year in August, when the summer lunch program isn’t offered and school isn’t back in session.

Since the food shelf tracks numbers and ages of individuals seeking food, Thiner said the largest age group seeking assistance were those ages 0 to 17, followed by individuals ages 18 to 64. There was also an increase in requests from those ages 65 and older, though Thiner said it wasn't significant.

Linda Sanchez, coordinator at Manna Food Pantry, noted a similar pattern during the first week or two of the governor’s stay-at-home executive orders. The Clary Street pantry saw approximately 75 new individuals ages 0-17, 25 more people in the 18-64 age group and seven new individuals ages 65 and older. For the month of March, the number of clients increased by 20%, she added.

Despite the influx in new clients, both Thiner and Sanchez said their food pantries are fairly well stocked. There are always certain items, however, that are in more demand, or can’t be purchased through Second Harvest Heartland.


Thiner said the Worthington Christian Church Food Shelf could really use donations of cereal and shelf-stable juices, neither of which she’s been able to get through Second Harvest Heartland as the company was in the midst of a move last month. Donations of canned fruits and vegetables are also welcome.

At Manna, Sanchez said, “We could take just about anything. Dried pinto beans is a biggie, and we can’t get them from Second Harvest right now. A lot of our clientele like them.”

Sanchez also noted a need for rice, unsweetened cereals and ketchup, as well as personal care items including toothpaste, toothbrushes, bars of soap, shampoo and sanitizing products.

“JBS donated a bunch of pork to us,” she said. “We were handing out an extra, nice-sized pork loin to every family for Easter. That was above and beyond their normal (meat distribution).

“We’ve had a surplus of bakery items — breads and sweet rolls, donuts, that kind of stuff,” Sanchez added.

Both food shelf locations have gone to curbside service. Clients pull into the respective church parking lot, and volunteers collect their information (number and ages of people in family), box or cart up the appropriate amount of food and deliver it to the client’s vehicle.

“Usually they were able to come in and choose, but with the coronavirus here, we’ve gone to putting items in boxes,” Thiner shared, adding that the families are given enough food to last about five days. They receive milk, cheese, eggs, frozen meat, canned fruits and vegetables and dry goods.

For April, Second Harvest Heartland is offering emergency boxes. Worthington Christian Church Food Shelf ordered 50 of them.


“I don’t know what is in them, but they said they would supply three to four days,” said Thiner, who noted that she anticipates the emergency boxes will arrive with their Second Harvest delivery on Thursday.

As of this week, both Thiner and Sanchez said they have enough volunteers to continue to operate, but they fear that as numbers of COVID-19 cases increase in the county, the retired volunteers they rely on may opt instead to stay home.

“Just today I had another (volunteer) say she won’t be coming back until it’s over with,” Sanchez said. “She said her kids don’t want her to be any more exposed.”

At Manna, volunteers are now required to wear masks when they're working, she added.

When COVID-19 began its spread through Minnesota, food pantries were in the midst of their March FoodShare campaign, seeking both monetary and food donations to support their continued operation.

Sanchez said the campaign has been extended to April 30 due to COVID-19, and she encourages people to continue to donate either money or food.

“We’ve gotten in some good checks in the last week or so here, so that’s helped tremendously,” she said. “We’re down about 25% of where we normally are. We kind of anticipated that once this stay-at-home order took effect. People don’t know what the future is.”

The Worthington Christian Church Food Shelf is open from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Thursdays, 1 to 3 p.m. Fridays and 5 to 7 p.m. the first Sunday of each month. Manna Food Pantry is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


Both locations prefer that food donations be made during their distribution hours, although if necessary, they are willing to make arrangements to accept donations at other times.

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A box of groceries is packed for a family of six at the Worthington Christian Church Food Pantry. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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