The Big Spring Area Food Bank operated its monthly distribution more like a drive-through bank Monday morning to continue its mission of serving local families in need amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of approximately 10 volunteers put pre-made bags of groceries into the trunks of vehicles one-by-one as volunteers from Newville Borough directed traffic inside the Big Spring United Lutheran Church parking lot at 101 Crossroad School Road in a well-engineered, drive-through operation that permitted the food bank to provide for those in need during a tough time for many families -- all while adhering to current social distancing guidelines.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook with people that have lost their job and need food,” Big Spring Area Food Bank Director Shani Holleran-Shenk said Monday morning. “We have a lot of new clients coming through.”

The food bank handed out 269 total bags of food to 123 families, enough food to feed 333 people. 

They had prepared to feed as many as 200 families. The grocery bags were filled to the brim with food provided through donations and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Volunteers spent much of this past weekend preparing the pre-made bags, filling them with canned vegetables, canned tuna, canned pork, peanut butter, pasta and other items to prepare for the monthly distribution. 

“We filled [the grocery bags] as much as we could. I really hit our warehouse hard, it’s usually much more full than it is right now,” Holleran-Shenk said.

Everyone is feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A local college student who volunteered Monday said he is back at home taking online classes, and had some time to volunteer.

“Everybody realizes that we’re all in this together,” he noted. “I recognize that this type of thing is what’s needed, especially because a lot of volunteers at food banks are usually older folks. Since they can’t volunteer right now, people like college students that are at home need to step up and do it.”

“People always need food, but in a crisis like this people are out of work and older folks are more at-risk to catch the virus,” he continued. “These people can’t go outside of their homes. We are practicing social distancing and trying to keep everyone safe. If they don’t have to go into a germ-infested grocery store, it’s really important for volunteers to step up and make that happen so we can flatten the curve and make sure everyone stays healthy.”

Another volunteer, Alan Galbraith, has volunteered with Shippensburg Produce and Outreach for the last 10 years. He heard about the Big Spring Area Food Bank’s efforts and decided to help.

“Not only is it important that we do it now, because of the coronavirus, we also need to continue doing the same thing later because there is always a need,” he said. “There is always hunger out there.”

It was the food bank’s first time using the drive-through format. During their normal monthly distribution days, clients would make their way inside the church’s facilities and shop for what they need. The outbreak of COVID-19 has forced them outdoors, and their brand new system ran at a brisk pace with few snags Monday.

With the state’s social distancing mandate extended through the end of April, the food bank’s next distribution day -- scheduled for April 27 -- will be run the same way.

“For our first time ever and for such a small crew, I think it went very well,” Holleran-Shenk said later on Monday. “I definitely have a little bit of tweaking. I want to see if I can figure out a safe, effective way to get some frozen meat products to our clients, but I thought it went very smoothly.”

For more information or to request emergency food, call the food bank at: (717) 422-4603, or visit the Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/BigSpringAreaFoodBank/.

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