And so it began. Locally, in greater Cincinnati, our mild winter was trying to transition to Spring and we were aware of coronavirus outbreaks around the country. Sporting events began cancelling and governors began asking people to work from home. Businesses began closing, schools were suspended and a run on grocery stores limited stock and disrupted supply chains. Travel restrictions were imposed and once clogged interstate highways opened up, volunteer groups replaced by National Guard units and food banks across the nation, always quietly essential, were deemed essential organizations allowed to operate to meet emergency food assistance demands during the first full bloom of the pandemic.
At our Liberty Street Market we packed emergency food bags, created a nearly no-touch distribution while the Ohio National Guard finished packing the final Power Packs for the remaining school year and creating emergency food boxes for off-site distributions. A young woman pulled up in her car to the front of Customer Connection Center on Liberty Street, visibly upset with tear streaked cheeks, explained she had just been laid-off from her restaurant job, and said, “I have never been here before and I do not know what to do, I am worried and my family needs food.” A Freestore Foodbank team member replied, “Don’t worry, we got you. Come with me. We will take care of you.”
“Cars are backing up on Montgomery Road, “you could hear the message being passed along the chain of command. The cars arrived earlier than anticipated. And the sun was piercingly bright. The wind was lashing out the last of an arctic blast across the exposed parking lot of Norwood Plaza overlooking Xavier University at our first pandemic emergency food distribution. The Ohio National Guard rapidly deployed with Freestore Foodbank staff to set-up the area for distribution and the cars began snaking into the parking lot following the path of orange traffic cones.
Starr Pinkelton, a mother of two, lost her job at a fast-casual restaurant during the shutdown, drove across town and was in that long line of cars at Norwood Plaza. “I’m so happy to be able to pick up food,” said Starr. “It’s a lifesaver during this rough time for me and my family.”
And the pandemic emergency food distributions were repeated, often and strategically across the Freestore Foodbank service area. At St. Vincent DePaul in Northern Kentucky, as the Kentucky National Guard coordinated the long line of cars, each car containing someone just like Mary Jane and her family of four, “I appreciate the drive-up,” said Mary Jane. “It gave us some groceries to help us through. Thank you, God bless you, stay safe and I wish you peace.”