Since the start of the pandemic, the Boyertown Area Multi-Service Inc. has seen a dramatic increase in the need for food.
More than 250 Thanksgiving meals were recently distributed, in comparison to the average 150 meals distributed in past years.
“This year, due to the COVID-19 virus, we are experiencing an increase in need. We have seen a 512% increase in pantry pick-up alone,” said Olivia Merry, Food Pantry Coordinator, Boyertown Area Multi-Service Inc. “This need has greatly affected our families, therefore increasing the need this holiday season. We are very fortunate that our community has been so giving to make sure that no family goes without food, which includes a Thanksgiving meal.”
The Multi-Service also distributes Christmas meal bags during the month of December.
“The holiday meal bags have been given out for generations (35+ years). It is my understanding, 35 or so years ago, we handed out a small amount of holiday meals. This program expanded as the need increased in our community,” said Merry.
Meanwhile, meeting the increased needs of the community amid a pandemic has presented challenges.
“Our biggest struggle through this pandemic has been our lack of space. We have outgrown our pantry, our refrigeration and freezer space,” said Merry.
Preston’s Pantry relocated to the Multi-Service's senior center, The Center at Spring Street, which is located on the opposite end of the building.
“The space is needed due to the substantial increase that we have experienced in the pantry over the past 8 months. As a result of the pandemic, we were able to relocate to the senior center since it has been closed to our 55+ community since March.”
Other changes include how food is distributed to those who need it.
“Due to COVID-19, we have had to change our pantry operation. We have converted our daily ‘choice pantry’ to a contact free drive-thru pantry pick-up that takes place twice a week,” she said.
Now, volunteers and staff pre-pack grocery bags with staple items. A family that utilizes the pantry will receive food based on their family size. The pantry clients have the opportunity to tell the pantry of any special needs such as dietary restrictions and needs, baby supplies, and any overall needs.
"If you have the supplies requested, they will receive them," she said.
And all of this would not be possible without volunteers.
“Our volunteers have been nothing short of amazing! We have had a handful of volunteers that have been with us since the start of COVID-19. Without their dedication we would not be able to continue serving the families that rely on Preston’s Pantry,” said Merry. “The increase in food insecurities in our community are at an all-time high and Multi-Service staff could not serve our community efficiently without the support of our dedicated volunteers.”
Community support has also been important in meeting an increased need.
“Our community has helped in so many ways. There have been an outpouring of food collections through local churches, schools, businesses, healthcare centers, neighborhoods, and individuals,” said Merry. “We are grateful for all the food donations that we have been receiving! On average, we have been experiencing a total incoming monthly food donation weight of 30,000 pounds. Mostly all donations received in a month go back out to our community members in need.”
The community can continue to help by making food and monetary donations. To donate a holiday meal for Preston’s Pantry, supply a whole ham or ham slices, can of corn, can of carrots, can of green beans, canned pineapple, biscuit mix, cream of mushroom soup, French’s crispy fried onions, cookie mix, hot chocolate mix, disposable plates, paper napkins, and a holiday reusable grocery bag.
A list of the “most needed” pantry items can be found on the Boyertown Area Multi-Service Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/BoyertownMultiService) and Preston’s Pantry Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/PrestonsPantry).
Make a monetary donation by personal check or electronically on the Multi-Service website at https://www.boyertownareamulti-service.org/.
If anyone would like addition information, contact the Boyertown Area Multi-Service directly at 610-367-6957.