Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Dublin Life Magazine
December 2020/January 2021
by Rebecca Myers November 23, 2020
Food insecurity hasn’t gone away during the pandemic, but neither has the Dublin Food Pantry.
“We’ve been open the entire time,” reminds Denise “Dinky” Youngsteadt-Parrish, the executive director for the nonprofit that operates from the Dublin Community Church, 81 W. Bridge St.
As need for the pantry has grown in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, Dinky says operations have been required to shift dramatically. In a matter of days, the Dublin Food Pantry (DFP) had to change course away from serving as a choice pantry. It now functions as a drive-thru pantry, with customers receiving pre-packed food boxes curbside rather than walking the pantry’s aisles to choose the items they need. Volunteers have been cut from about 150 per week to a force of 50 in order to meet COVID-19 safety protocols, while hundreds of new families have been accessing the pantry and thousands are calling on the nonprofit to get by.
“They’ll say things like, ‘I was a bartender,’ or, ‘I used to drive for Uber,’ or ‘I don’t have a job anymore.’ And they’re not sure where their next meal is coming from,” Dinky says.
Soup kitchens and pantries across the county have had to shut their doors because of the pandemic, but the shelves at the DFP remain up and running, with dedicated volunteers ready to serve and residents eager to give. DFP has continued to receive food and cash donations, with people finding creative ways to offer substantial returns to the local nonprofit.
“As soon as the pandemic hit, Dubliners just showed up with donations and food before we could even reach out and ask,” says Lisa Patt-McDaniel, the pantry’s past chair of the board of trustees. “This overwhelming support has been a heartwarming bright spot in an otherwise challenging time.” Soley Hernandez, the current chairwoman, notes Dublin has always offered its hands to the pantry, but that generosity, especially from volunteers, only grew this year in the face of record numbers of new families seeking food assistance.
“Our dedicated staff and volunteers have adapted to the new normals of 2020 to be able to safely and effectively provide nutrition to those in need,” she says.
And Dubliners, young and old, have recognized that need and risen to the occasion, according to Gene Pavell, vice chair of the board.
“Scout Troop 299 donated 1,000 pounds of food; Dublin Police officers passed out Halloween treat bags; students from three high schools volunteered continuously; and one 80-year-old woman gave a monetary donation to honor her friend who passed away recently,” he says. “We appreciate this kindness more than we can say.”
But DFP isn’t alone. Other groups support the pantry’s work, like Dublin Bridges and Welcome Warehouse, which offer people assistance for utilities, housing and clothing – aid the pantry isn’t usually able to give.
Partnering with other area nonprofits and service groups has bolstered an important reciprocal relationship, Dinky notes. “If you’re serving, what can we do to help you serve, and what can you do to help us serve?” Expand Dinky attributes the pantry’s successes to that network of local allies along with the working relationship with the City of Dublin. During the summer and fall, the City sponsored free drive-in movies in Coffman Park for families to safely get out of the house and enjoy the big screen. Suggested admission to the movies was a donation to DFP, something that Dinky says helped spread the word of the pantry’s ongoing needs during a time of limited fundraising.
The City has also given a tent to the pantry, which it uses outside its doors to offer some shelter for the curbside delivery, along with sandwich boards and traffic cones in the past to help with the flow of customers at different events. The Dublin Police have been a “refreshing” connection to have, Dinky says, as they handed out candy to kids frequenting the pantry this fall.
A big point of apprehension this year for DFP was the loss of sizable food drives, including the canceled Dublin Irish Festival which usually raises a large portion of funds for the pantry. But local drives conducted by residents are still turning out critical donations to keep the shelves stocked. Jim Wilson, DFP operations director, estimates that the consistency of smaller donation drives has been able to supplement more than half of the nonprofit’s regular large food drives (not including the Irish Festival). But, with the 5K + Kids Dash going virtual in 2020, the City was still able to select DFP as the beneficiary.
Jim notes that the City’s efforts to continue to include the pantry in community events is “way above average” compared with other local governments, and Dinky mentions seeing so many people pitch in for a worthy cause is “empowering.”
“This community – they’ve been with us every step of the way,” Dinky says. “I mean, we received grants without asking for them. That’s pretty phenomenal.”
Luckily, with the increased need this year, the pantry had the option to reach out more easily to the community through its newly revamped social media. Patte Widerschein, who manages the DFP’s website, Facebook and Instagram, says calling for needed items online ended up being quite fruitful.
“Just recently, we were out of soup and ramen noodles, and after posting about our need, the donation area was filled with soup and ramen noodles,” Widerschein recalls. “You can imagine how relieved we were to have that kind of response! Our community support is fantastic.”
Widerschein explains that support from volunteers, even with the reduced team, has been the constant backbone of the donation process.
“Almost every part of our operation has been impacted by the pandemic, yet volunteers, following extra safety steps, continue the hard work it takes to pick up weekly donations, sort, pack and distribute everything – happily, in every sort of weather,” she says. “They are an inspiration.” The new food delivery method of curbside pick-up means customers and volunteers interacting less than before. Dinky says although the familiarity with people has changed so everyone can socially distance, there is still a sense of camaraderie with those who pull up to the curb and among the pantry’s volunteers.
“There’s a really amazing sense of togetherness among the volunteers; they look forward to seeing each other on the days that they work,” Dinky says. “So, they have these relationships that are tied directly to the pantry.”
Operations manager Jim Wilson reflects that even with volunteers working in different stations at the pantry to limit contact and fewer conversations with customers, they’ve still managed to remain surprisingly optimistic. He says after a work shift, volunteers continue to feel like, “Hey, we made a difference. I think that was really a good day.”
As always, the ultimate goal for the pantry is to continue to serve the Dublin community.
“We want people to know we’re here,” Dinky says. “We’re here, and we’re going to do whatever we can to make it possible for you to get what you need.”
Best Ways to Help Some of the most productive and safe ways for residents to support the Dublin Food Pantry include
Running a food drive
Making a financial donation
Visit dublinfoodpantry.org to learn more about the most needed items.
Rebecca Myers is a public information officer for the City of Dublin. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. To see this story online: https://www.cityscenecolumbus.com/communities/dublinlife/dublin-food-pantry-serves-on/