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Volunteer delivery props up Oxford’s grocery fixtures

Oxford’s sources for local or free groceries are turning into grocery delivery services to eliminate coronavirus contact points. To keep up, they are training additional volunteers.

Larry Slocum, who organizes the Oxford Farmers Market, is keeping the market open at its normal hours on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings, armed with hand sanitizer and new 6-feet-apart social distancing rules. Additionally, he is setting up an online platform for customers to search for and contact farmers for delivery.

Slocum aims to launch the platform by the end of the week. He plans to hire paid delivery workers but will also accept volunteers who want to deliver groceries to the elderly and immunocompromised, who are most at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“We just want to get the food of our farmers to the people who need it, whether it’s through volunteers or some kind of paid delivery service,” Slocum said.

Meanwhile, Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services (TOPSS) expanded existing delivery services two weeks ago.

Before the coronavirus hit, TOPSS director Ann Fuehrer said the pantry delivered free groceries to three to four people who couldn’t reach the store due to medical issues. Now, Fuehrer said volunteers deliver to between 12 and 28 homes.

Fuehrer said in a press release that at least a dozen new volunteers have joined the pantry’s ranks.

“[They] have helped us date and sort donations, stock shelves, pack boxes to deliver to our customers, drive to deliver boxes of food and give groceries to the few customers who are coming to our regular service hours,” Fuehrer said.

 Part of TOPSS’s training includes social distancing.

“We think it’s easier to control physical distance between volunteers and our customers with the delivery option,” Fuehrer said.

Delivery customers can’t pick out specific items they want, and instead receive a set of basic groceries including items like bread, milk and pasta, because it takes too much time to customize delivery orders. But Fuehrer said delivery helps customers save even more money because they use less gas to go to the pantry.

The pantry facility on West Withrow Street is still open with standard social distancing policies in place to serve those who are homeless or do not own a phone. Fuehrer said one or two people come in per day, sometimes all the way from Trenton, Ohio, almost 25 minutes away.

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The Saint Mary Catholic Church Backpack Program has also changed its process because of the coronavirus, according to Pete Carels, who runs the “Volunteer Oxford” Facebook page.

Before the Talawanda School District closed, the program distributed free groceries from Shared Harvest Foodbank at each elementary school. Kids would pick up a backpack of groceries once a week after school to bring home. Now, one person in each family picks up a backpack of food from Talawanda Middle School.

“We haven’t really seen an increase in volunteers,” Carels said.

Meanwhile, on March 29, Fuehrer said TOPSS received 5,000 pounds of food in a period of two weeks. The pantry benefited from food drives and Miami students donating food they could not take home with them. TOPSS is still seeking donated items but not financial donations.

Fuehrer asked for those who want to donate money to TOPSS to instead donate to the backpack program that Carels volunteers with, as well as the Oxford Senior Center, Open Hands Pantry in Hamilton, Ohio, and the Oxford Family Resource Center.

These local resources are changing their processes so Oxford’s most vulnerable can access food and other resources, while also preventing the spread of the virus.