Switchpoint experiencing ‘very lean days’ for food pantry, volunteers due to the coronavirus

ST. GEORGE — A handful of volunteers placed food in boxes atop a long line of tables Tuesday at the food pantry at the Switchpoint Community Resource Center. In just under an hour, people in need of the pantry’s services would begin to arrive and be handed prepacked boxes.

Inside the Switchpoint food pantry, St. George, Utah, March 17, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

It’s a different experience at the food pantry than some may be used to, yet it is seen as a necessity as Switchpoint does its part to stall the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve made some changes to how things are run in the pantry,” Switchpoint’s operations director Kristen Clark said Tuesday.

Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, pantry patrons could walk into the building and pick out what they wanted similar to a regular grocery store. This has changed because of the virus. In order to stem COVID-19’s spread, patrons are handed prepacked boxes of food in order to cut down on as much contact and interaction as possible.

“We’re doing our best to make it move like a drive-thru,” Clark said.

This is to protect the patrons and volunteers – a number of whom are older individuals.

If any volunteers feel uncomfortable about interacting with others at this time – or feel sick themselves – they are staying home. Unfortunately, this has began to impact the number of volunteers at Switchpoint, something that has already been in short supply even before COVID-19.

“We are always looking for volunteers, and at this time, definitely, we are in need of  more volunteers,” Clark said.

Volunteers fill boxes of food for those in-need inside the Switchpoint food pantry during the COVID-19 pandemic, St. George, Utah, March 17, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

As a nonprofit entity, many aspects of the community resource center’s services are handled by volunteers. This also helps keep operational costs down.

A squeeze on volunteers isn’t the only issue Switchpoint is facing due to the coronavirus, however. While the pantry looked full Tuesday morning, Clark said it would be near-empty soon enough. Switchpoint’s pantry shelves are becoming sparse due to the increased need and demand.

“We’ve had some very lean days,” she said.

The food pantry serves 400-600 households each week, including seniors, veterans and children.

One of the groups on which Switchpoint heavily relies to keep the pantry supplied is the Utah Food Bank, which is also experiencing a high demand for food and other items.

Ginette Bott, Utah Food Bank president and CEO, released a statement asking everyone to “keep their neighbors in mind.”

“We encourage the community to do what they can to help, whether it’s donations of food, time or money,” Bott said. “In the coming weeks, we anticipate an increased need and are making preparations to assist all of our local pantries with the same capacity and services as usual.”

Kristen Clark, Switchpoint’s operations manager, speaks to how the current COVID-19 pandemic is impacting Switchpoint’s food pantry and volunteer availability, St. George, Utah, March 17, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Switchpoint is requesting donations for canned goods to be delivered to 948 N. 1300 West in St. George. Donations may be received 24 hours daily. Additional current needs include hand sanitizer, disinfectant sprays and wipes.

“Those families that are most vulnerable still need help,” Clark said. “Some of them cannot stop working, so they’re still coming to our food pantry, and we have less and less to give.”

Even so, the Switchpoint food pantry won’t turn away anyone who is in need, Clark said, adding that Switchpoint staff and volunteers do what they can to spread the food around.

“Switchpoint’s critical services, the 24/7 Shelter, Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, serving five days a week, must stay accessible and open to our most vulnerable community citizens,” an email sent to Switchpoint supporters and volunteers Wednesday stated.

Potential patrons of the pantry are asked to fill out an application so staff and volunteers understand the needs of the individual or family. The process is also used as a way to discourage potential abuse of the pantry’s services by those who may attempt to take advantage of it.

Individuals who are sick and have symptoms of the virus are asked to call ahead so staff can assess their needs, Clark said.

Patrons of Switchpoint’s food pantry begin to arrive to collect food boxes, St. George, Utah, March 17, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

And in addition to precautions taken at the food pantry, Switchpoint itself is prepared to quarantine any potential COVID-19 cases that may arise from the homeless populace it serves. If there is someone who tests positive for the virus among those already at the shelter, Switchpoint will be able to isolate and quarantine those infected.

The people that Switchpoint serves can be at particular risk from COVID-19 due to the likelihood they already have a preexisting health condition or have a compromised immune system due to poor nutrition, Clark said.

Carol Hollowell, Switchpoint’s executive director, echoed this sentiment.

“While our city, country and the world are responding to a health issue of significant magnitude, we at Switchpoint want to remind our community that the poor among us are still in need of food assistance,” she said.

To learn more about how to donate to, or volunteer at Switchpoint, visit the nonprofit’s website here.

In addition to Switchpoint, the various United Way of Utah organizations may also be able to help those in need of food and other services at this time.

According to United Way Dixie’s Facebook page:

The United Ways of Utah are coming together to provide Utah families in every community with the help and resources they need during this time. If you or someone you know is in need of obtaining food, making rent, or paying utilities, please dial 2-1-1, text your zip code to 898-211, or visit 211utah.org

Additional COVID-19 information resources

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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