When Gov. Tim Walz announced additional restrictions last week for bars, restaurants and fitness centers, Jamie Revermann, executive director of the Meeker Area Food Shelf, prepared for an increase in business.
“After the stay-at-home orders were put into effect, at both food shelf sites earlier this year we saw our busiest days serving families,” she said. “We expect that again.”
Litchfield Public Schools announced it would move to distance learning beginning Nov. 30, another factor that will impact the food shelf, Revermann said.
“When Litchfield High School sent out a notification to parents Friday afternoon letting them know about distance learning, I had a line out the door,” she said. “It's the panic parents feel knowing their kids are going to be home.”
In addition to an uptick in clients, the pandemic has also brought changes in how the food shelf serves clients. Prior to COVID-19, Revermann said, clients could come to the food shelf in Litchfield and Dassel and shop for what they wanted — just like going to the grocery store and picking up items off the shelves. Since the pandemic, clients have several options: They can receive a prepackaged box of food, fill out a grocery shopping list or call in a customized order for delivery or curbside pickup.
“We have people with different levels of what they are comfortable with,” she said. “We're trying to adapt to what they need.”
With fluctuating use and the uncertainty of the times, Revermann acknowledged there is no way to plan ahead.
“We had no idea there would be announcements made last week,” she said. “We gather our volunteers, come in early and get things ready. We don't have insider knowledge of what is going to be restricted. We do the best we can with our donations for the people affected by it.”
One of the bright spots has been donors. Last Thursday was Give to the Max Day — Minnesota's online giving campaign. Revermann said the food shelf was the recipient of several early donations.
“We're lucky we live in such a great community that lifts people up,” she said. “Our community doesn't shy away when it sees a family in hardship. They are definitely giving more during these times.”
While use is up now, local food shelf use was down during the summer, which Revermann credited to the free lunch programs and the extra money available within the food support network. She expects to see an uptick in clients during the next few weeks.
“We're anticipating the people we serve will be out of jobs due to last week's announcement, so we're anticipating it to be a busier holiday season than usual.”
Another bright spot for the local food shelf is the addition of a truck for its mobile program. They hope to have it ready to go by Christmas. Until then, volunteers are delivering food in their own cars to anyone who needs it within Meeker County.
Looking back over the past few months, Revermann is proud of her community.
“We're very lucky we have the community support to keep the sites going and expand the mobile program during a pandemic,” she said. “That is remarkable.”