Saturday M and I were scheduled to work at a local food pantry as part of her service hours commitment. Late last week I kept checking the pantry’s website and saw no changes in the schedule and did not receive a cancellation from the volunteer coordinator, so we got up early and headed down. When we volunteered there in December the streets around the pantry were completely filled with parked cars well before the pantry opened. Saturday the streets were empty.
When we checked in we were told that the pantry was closed, but we would be preparing boxes of food that would be distributed via a drive-through when the pantry reopened on Tuesday. We spent five hours doing exactly that.
Because of the change in schedule and mission, several of the pantry’s employees who don’t normally work in the distribution area were with us. For a long stretch I was between the president of the organization and the volunteer coordinator. They told me how they had to scramble beginning Thursday to completely revamp their mission. All the food pantries in the area had met on Wednesday to discuss how to manage keeping people safe while still getting food to folks who needed it. They agreed that every pantry that was able would move to a drive through method of distribution. This would keep people from congregating in the waiting area – there were often 100 people in the waiting room at any one time the last time we worked – while also avoiding direct contact between volunteers and clients. As most pantries rely heavily on families and students for their weekend volunteers, I think every organization wanted to do all they could to make it clear that those kids would be isolated from the pantry clients lest they lose their workforce.
There were still around 50 people working Saturday, which was great. We did a ton of work, packing dozens of pallets 8’ high with boxes of food. The staff members who joined us on the floor were super impressed at how much we got accomplished. With no idea what to expect, I think they were fearful A) people wouldn’t show up and B) we wouldn’t put them in a good position to begin distributing again on Tuesday. They seemed to be comfortable that with the work we did Saturday, and what could be added Monday, they would be in position to distribute when their doors opened again.
Anytime we go to a food pantry it is deeply humbling. Last December we had more than 500 people go through during our five hour shift. And that was just one of many pantries open in the city that day. To help during a moment of (so far) minor food crisis was even more humbling. We can complain about crowds and empty shelves at grocery stores, but those are minor annoyances. We still have access to fresh food and the ability to purchase it. I can’t imagine counting on food pantries to get through the week and seeing them close down because of the virus scare.
I had some reservations about going. Several times I wondered if we should cancel. My fear was that because of some of the rules that CHS sets up around service hours, if we didn’t go M would be screwed on her freshman year requirements and affect her GPA in the process. When they told us we would not actually be serving people directly, that made me feel better.
But last night I still wondered if it was the correct decision. The experts are coming out more forcefully for shutting down all but essential services and having everyone hole up at home. Are M or I carry Covid–19 and spread it to the people we worked with, some of whom were older and not in great health? Did someone else there carry the virus and pass it to us? Was it dumb to put an academic requirement above other considerations? Might we have been able to get a waiver for those hours given what is going on? Hell, might CHS scrap the requirements for this year should the school shutdown and isolation recommendations stretch deeper into the spring than currently expected?
I’m hopeful we dodged a bullet and didn’t do more harm than good. We had planned on trying to knock out some more service hours during spring break. Now I think there is no way we will be doing that and will either scramble to get her final hours once things return to normal, or count on the school adjusting the hours needed for this year.
Ah, spring break. We officially cancelled our flights Saturday. We decided it was too risky for us all, S’ employer is highly encouraging all docs to stay put, and it’s looking more and more like we will have domestic travel restrictions soon. We are waiting as long as possible to cancel everything else, not in hopes we can salvage the trip but in hopes the vendors we purchased lodging, ski rentals, lift tickets, etc from adjust their policies so we can get full refunds for everything.
Unlike when we first mentioned this as a possibility on Thursday, there were no tears from the girls. They’re figuring out what is going on and how serious everything is. They are definitely still disappointed – we all are – but realize it is for the best. Although when I told them that the NCAA tournament had been cancelled, they all snapped their heads to attention to see if that made me cry. It did on the inside.