With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, local food pantries are balancing their effort to help customers during the holidays while also following COVID-19 guidelines.
The Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services (TOPSS) has found creative ways to provide meals to local families.
For the last seven months, TOPSS has been delivering food boxes to customers’ homes to allow for minimal contact. The building reopened for curbside shopping just over two weeks ago, which allows customers to personalize their boxes.
“When we pre-pack food boxes, and especially if we deliver as many as 28 boxes a day, it’s really hard to customize [or] personalize those boxes for individuals,” said Ann Fuehrer, director of TOPSS.
Fuehrer said that although many customers were eager for the building to reopen, the number of in-person shoppers has still been fairly low.
“I think people are still wary of the spread of the virus, even though we do everything we can to follow COVID prevention guidelines,” Fuehrer said.
She said TOPSS decided to reopen the building in anticipation of the holidays, when the pantry will likely need to provide more food to customers.
In the past, TOPSS has supplemented traditional shopping with bags of additional food and Kroger gift cards. This year, the pantry is only giving out gift cards but has increased the values, which vary depending on family size. These gift cards allow TOPSS to provide assistance to customers while still giving them the opportunity to choose what they want to buy.
“The ability to choose what they want is really important to our customers,” Fuehrer said.
TOPSS received overwhelming support from the community when it came time to begin raising money in preparation for the holidays.
The funds needed to buy these Kroger gift cards were largely contributed by the Oxford Kiwanis Club, which raised almost $12,000 for TOPSS in a recent holiday drive. The club also hosted a small food drive in early November and collected about 400 pounds of food, including traditional holiday items the pantry will soon have a great need for.
TOPSS also recently received $95,000 in CARES Act funding from the city, which provides economic assistance to workers and small businesses, among other things.
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With this money, TOPSS was able to purchase a 22-foot refrigerated transit van, which it plans to share with the Oxford Farmers Market. TOPSS plans to begin using the van in the spring as a mobile pantry to deliver to subsidized housing, mobile home parks and other community centers in the rural areas of the Talawanda school district.
TOPSS and the Kiwanis Club are continuing raising money for the pantry’s needs through the TOPSS website.