Brookings County Food Pantry Facebook photo: South Dakota State University men’s basketball staff help unload the food truck at the Brookings County Food Pantry earlier this month.

The Brookings area has for several years had agencies in place dedicated to feeding people in need. 

Now as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the nation, bringing mass unemployment and forcing people to shelter in place, getting enough food has become a challenge for some people – and several Brookings agencies already dedicated to alleviating food insecurity are stepping up their efforts. 

And a big part of those efforts is ensuring that social separation is maintained. 

“Feeding Brookings is still going,” said coordinator Joanne Matthees. “But we have gone to a drive-through system. We have only done it twice; so we’re taking things a week at a time to see how it goes as we see the numbers increase.

“It is still at Ascension Lutheran Church. We have volunteers to keep the numbers down inside the church. They fill the boxes with food and take them outside and place them on pallets.  They drive through with their car trunks open and the food is placed in the trunk. We hope we’ll be able to continue it, because we know there will definitely be a need here.”

Pickup time for the groceries is still 4-5 p.m. Thursdays. If there is a need to change that, information will be posted on the program’s Facebook page. And information can always be obtained by calling Ascension Lutheran Church at 692-6565. 

“The program is being run now by younger volunteers,” Matthees added. “Because people like me are getting older.” 

She explained that she still works behind the scenes, while her “second in command,” Bill Alsaker, and a dedicated group of younger volunteers are doing the hands-on work of loading the food boxes and putting them in the trunks of the cars.

“He is the one who stepped up and is working with United Way for getting the younger volunteers,” she said. “A lot of people stepped forward and are willing to help. He has a very good crew. I am still doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff like the ordering of the food and contacting a lot of people, but I am staying out of the actual distribution.”

To date, the new way of running the food pickup has been used three times: The first week there were about 125 drive-throughs; the second week that dropped to 105, which Matthees and Alsaker say might be attributed to inclement weather; and this past Thursday’s pickup was about 150. 

Alsaker said the numbers will be watched to see if they indicate an upward trend.

Matthees had plenty of kudos for those agencies and individuals who are donating funds, food and other items that keep the program up and running. She added that getting what they need to keep the program going has not been difficult.

“Central Bank (in Brookings) just gave a big donation,” she said. “We have had a lot of other donations.  We have a corporate sponsor here in town, SGS.

“We have a United Way grant that we got this year. We have money coming in through the Feeding South Dakota warehouse, so you can buy things at a low cost. The money goes further.

“Walmart and Hy-Vee also give food. We get eggs through Dakota Layers. We get some food from the government through a program called TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program).”

Matthees also noted that Feeding Brookings does “give out personal hygiene products. We do try to provide toilet paper if we can get ahold of it.”

Continuing to feed the students

Food insecurity has long been an issue in the Brookings school system. For students enrolled in the district and who had been receiving meals at school, meals are continuing to be served, with the option to choose either pickup or meal delivery for both breakfast and lunch. For more information on meals, email laura.swier@k12.sd.us or call 696-4713.

Meanwhile, the Brookings Backpack Project continues to supplement the district’s meals program by providing meals for the weekend. 

“When I first heard school was canceled for a week I thought, well, we will just treat this as a snow day,” said Cathy Ching, BBP executive director. “As it continued, we decided we were going to get food to kids just as long as we can.

“We were able to hand out our bags if the kids come to the school to pick up their food bags. We jumped into the ballgame and we said we will get food to kids as long as we can. We are working with the schools closely as we aways do. Right now there are about 130 kids who come to school to pick up their lunches.

“We recently had to move our site. We are now out at the (Research & Technology Center, near the Swiftel Center). That is where we are packing bags now. They have to come out to the packing site or we do offer delivery as well.”

In addition to packing bags for the Brookings School District, BBP also provides weekend meals for Sioux Valley, Elkton and Head Start. While noting that people have been very helpful in supporting BBP, Ching cited Chad Adamson, a counselor at Mickelson Middle School, as “being very helpful.”  

“He has been taking bags out to Aurora and handing them out over there,” she said. “He has delivered bags out to Aurora. He is our liaison who works with the backpack program.”

Ching also had kudos for Brookings Area United Way director Heidi Gullickson and her staff.

Pickup, delivery for seniors

Since social distancing has become the norm in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, a pair of popular meal options for seniors have also had to change how they do business. 

“We have quit the congregate gatherings Monday through Friday, because we can’t gather in groups anymore,” explained Julie Scubelek, Brookings area manager for 60s Plus Dining and Meals on Wheels. “We are still doing the home deliveries. We made sure everybody has a cooler. To those who did not have one we provided one.”

The coolers are set outside the door and the meals are placed in the coolers. There is no person-to-person contact.

The new way the program serves its seniors – with 60 or older being the only eligibility requirement – is via “Frozen Meal Packs,” which are prepared by the Swiftel Center catering staff. There are 10 different meal options available; the customer chooses seven. Each meal pack also includes a small loaf of bread, a half-gallon of milk and a choice of fruit juice. Meals may be heated in a microwave and provide one-third of daily recommended nutrition amounts.

While the meals are offered for free, a suggested free-will donation of $27 is suggested. It can be paid with cash, check or food stamps. It takes about two days for an order to get filled. Meals can be picked up at the Brookings Activity Center via drive-by and having them placed in the trunk of the car.

To place an order, contact Scubelek at  692-1407 or 1-800-721-8272. She can also be contacted for information on Meals on Wheels, which currently serves about 40 to 45 people in the Brookings area.

Meals on Wheels are delivered as before with deliveries placed in coolers outside the customers’ doors; there is no physical contact. Additionally, there are now two free meals for the weekend.

Food Pantry serving more families

The Brookings County Food Pantry, operated by Deb Brandwein and Gail Seeklander, serves Brookings County residents and is seeing more people seeking assistance. Like other food providers, the Pantry practices social distancing.

“We don’t let anybody in the building,” Seeklander explained. “We ask their name, address and if they have ever been here before. We ask how many there are in the family. What kind of meat they don’t like. We pack up their food according to the number in the house. We roll the cart out onto the step. They unload it.”

The carts are then disinfected before they are taken back into the building.

The pantry is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1-4:30 p.m. In March 2019 the two women served 51 families. This March they helped 120 families.

“We saw 30 new families we have never seen before,” Seeklander said. “There are only two of us. We have to hope and pray nobody shares anything with us (the virus) that we don’t want.”

The pantry continues to get enough food for supply to meet demand. 

“We got ‘food-fight’ donations from all the schools. We are still getting food from Feeding South Dakota and Hy-Vee,” Seeklander said. She added, “Monetary donations are also welcome.” They can be mailed to P.O. Box 972, Brookings, SD, 57006.

For additional information call 692-5007.

Contact John Kubal at jkubal@brookingsregister.com.  

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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