The Pantry working to keep families fed during COVID-19 pandemic

Published 1:25 pm Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Pantry is one of many places feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are still doing their part to keep food on people’s tables.

Oxford and Lafayette County’s food bank began to be proactive a couple months ago, which helped them be as prepared as possible for when COVID-19 hit the area.

“We fell into a couple opportunities through Mid-South (Food Bank) back in January and February that kind of helped into this,” said John Kohne, director of food distribution at The Pantry. “We had mobile pantry, which was an 18-wheeler that came to the Lafayette County Arena parking lot and hand out supplemental items. … We were fortunate to have that fall our way.”

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The mobile pantry arrived in Oxford on Wednesday, providing food for between 300 and 400 families, and will return once every month, according to Kohne.

Another opportunity Kohne took advantage of through Mid-South Food Bank was the ability to request boxes of food. The Pantry sent in their request last week, when Oxford and Lafayette County began getting hit by the pandemic.

Mid-South Food Bank supplied The Pantry with 250 boxes full of food, which Kohne then turned around and donated local churches to help provide food for residents who call the City’s ‘Serving Oxford Hotline.’

While the mobile pantry and the food boxes from Mid-South provided some extra relief, The Pantry is still doing its best to keep supplies on the shelves. The Pantry saw 80 people come pick up food last Thursday, and on Wednesday of this week, they had 118 people.

“Since last week, we’re getting hit hard,” Kohne said. “When I buy food to stock the shelves for 150 a week and then I have 118 show up in one day, you know I’m going to be shorted for the next day. We will roll with it.”

Locally, the biggest problem Kohne said the Pantry is experiencing is the lack of food on the shelves at grocery stores. The Pantry receives monetary donations from members of the community to help purchase food, but Kohne is finding it hard to find what he needs to restock when shopping.

A request for 3,000 pounds of product through Mid-South returned only 15 cases of peanut butter and 15 cases of sliced ham, according to Kohne. He also put in a request of 160 cases of product through Larson’s CashSaver, and received 50.

“There’s a lot of items I normally have on my shelves for people who to The Pantry that won’t be there,” Kohne said. “So, it’s going to be a reduced amount of food. Lord willing, we’re still going to give them meat, we’re still going to give them a chicken, we’re still going to give them vegetables, but some of the extra stuff that we’re able to give them is just not there.”

While local businesses are not allowing people inside their stores, several are taking the opportunity to support The Pantry. Square Books, for example, has a sign posted in their window asking people to donate to the food bank.

For people who may have an excess of non-perishable items in their pantry at home, Kohne said they are in need of more canned soups and any canned fruit. As the stock stands right now, Kohne said they will have to begin rationing their supply soon; if the pandemic lasts into April or longer, they could become very low on food.

The Pantry, which is located at 713 Molly Barr Road next to the Oxford Police Department, is open from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Kohne encourages people to donate on Tuesdays to help stock the shelves for the week. Donations can be brought to the food bank any day, but Kohne asks that they be dropped off at the front or side doors.