Eloise’s Cooking Pot, a program of the Making A Difference Foundation based on Tacoma’s Eastside, serves about 30,000 Pierce County families and distributes more than 2 million pounds of food annually, about 40 percent through home delivery.

As COVID-19 spread, the organization switched to a pickup model for its onsite pantry and added a secondary delivery channel for food that kids would typically receive at school.

“For us, we were fortunate because we’re already dealing with people at door-delivery systems,” said founder and director Ahndrea Blue. Nonetheless, without outside support like the National Guard, “Our biggest challenge has been volunteers. My normal staff, they’re taxed. It’s starting to get hard.”

It’s not just that volunteers tend to be older.

In fact, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau on behalf of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a quarter of the Silent Generation volunteers — compared to more than a third of Generation X, and roughly 30 percent of baby boomers and millennials.

“People just don’t want to expose themselves, and you just have to respect them for that,” said Blue, who herself has eschewed visits to her parents, both diagnosed with cancer, to remain on the front lines with her team.

Usually running with 20 to 30 volunteers, she hired 15 temporary workers to “keep up with the demand.” On Monday, six volunteer drivers showed up, and she was thrilled.

At the Food Connection, part of St. Leo Catholic Parish in Tacoma, executive director Kevin Glackin-Coley has noticed the same decrease in volunteers and increase in need for its services.

“We have a lot of volunteers who have stepped back because of health issues or risk factors,” he said. “We tend to get lots of volunteer groups, and none of those groups are coming in.”

The shift to pre-boxing means right now the organization needs more manpower than ever — 20 to 25 people a day “to do it smoothly.”

Its walk-up food pantry — where half of visitors live in a household with at least one working adult or social security recipient — also transitioned from a grocery store model to curbside pickup. Its weekend backpack program, which provides meals to Tacoma School District students, expanded “on the fly” from Friday deliveries to twice weekly, including breakfast and lunch.

Healthy volunteers can assist by sorting food deliveries, packing boxes or dropping off the boxes at area middle schools.

“Basically, we need people,” said Glackin-Coley. He added that financial donations are always welcome, especially as the nonprofit spends more on food “because donation streams might slow down or just not keep up with the increased demand that we expect.”

For reference, a truckload of peanut butter costs about $20,000, according to Nourish’s Potter. A half-order of canned beef chili and cream of mushroom soup costs $30,000. That’s through the same wholesale channels used by grocers.

Likewise, Blue encourages support through whatever means available to you, whether that’s donating your time and labor or simply dropping off donations of food or cleaning products.

For those healthy, able and willing, she recognized that the biggest hurdle might be overcoming that feeling of unease in putting yourself at risk. Eloise’s volunteer coordinator vets potential helpers to ensure they are well enough to serve and equips everyone with masks and gloves. Volunteers are spaced safely six feet apart.

“People feel more comfortable once they get there,” she said.

You also can help by making deliveries in your own vehicle.


Source: The News Tribune