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Copper Country food assistance adapts, serves

Despite social distancing and stay home orders, food pantries and other food assistance continues in Copper Country, with some additions and slight changes.

“We are continuing to distribute food,” said Tom Vichich, who coordinates the volunteers at St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry in Hancock with his wife, Vicky.

The pantry serves most of Houghton County, with the exception of the CLK school district, which is served by another pantry. Vicky said that while some of their regular food recipients are staying home because of health concerns surrounding the pandemic, local layoffs have led new people to request assistance, too.

Distributions have continued to happen on Wednesdays, but they are limiting their building to a 5-person occupancy, and all the volunteers have been wearing masks and gloves.

With churches and the thrift store next door closed, the food pantry’s usual ways of accepting donations have been unavailable. On Thursday, they tried a two-hour collection at the food pantry to collect food and monetary donations.

 “We were pretty successful considering only two days’ notice,” Vicky said.

Collecting the food on Thursday allows them to leave it on the table for most of a week before volunteers date and sort it, giving plenty of time for coronavirus to dry up and die. They will be collecting again this Thursday, 10 a.m. to noon at the food pantry, at which time they’ll decide whether to continue with weekly collections. Monetary donations are used to round out staples, buy perishable foods, and supply cleaning and paper supplies that can’t be purchased with government food assistance.

Jean LaBerge, Executive Director at the Community Action Agency in Houghton said that they will have a lot of assistance available for people, just call 906-482-5528. At the moment she said it’s mostly food, but if people call with other needs, they will do whatever they can to help. A couple of their programs are temporarily on hold, but are expected to resume.

“They can still call and get their name on a list,” LaBerge said.

Their staff is in the same building, wearing masks and gloves and practicing social distancing, but the doors to the office are being kept locked. Food is being packed by office staff so volunteers don’t need to come into the building.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can with who we have here,” LaBerge said. “It’s hard but so far we’re doing okay.”

Emergency food assistance is currently put outside for pickup, and drive-thru is being set up for the food pantry and senior food.

“We’ll just open up their door and put the boxes in,” LaBerge said.

Both LaBerge and Vichich said that while normal supplies have been disrupted, not in any way that is immediately concerning.

Plenty of noodles and soup are normally donated to St. Vincent’s, but without regular donations, they’ve been running low, but when Vicky buys food for St. Vincent’s, she’s been trying to avoid buying noodles or soup in bulk.

“I hate to take all of that off the shelf,” she said.

She was able to get some from the CAA food bank instead for now.

LaBerge said some high-demand items from Feeding America, one of their major suppliers, aren’t available because companies are selling them to stores right now rather than donating.

“Nothing has hurt us yet, except it’s hard to work like this,” she said.

The Salvation Army in Hancock is also still distributing food, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Salvation Army Envoy Brenda DeLacy said they are asking recipients to ring the bell at the door and they will bring out a pre-packed bag of food. They ask that only one person come to the door per household, and bring a photo ID. For other types of assistance, or to make special food pickup arrangements, call the office at 906-482-3420.

DeLacy said for those looking to help, monetary donations allow them the flexibility to buy what is necessary. They can be mailed to: The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 389, Hancock, MI, 49930. 

Trinity Episcopal Church in Houghton has actually started a new food pantry about a month ago. According to their Senior Warden, Valri Peyser, the launch wasn’t related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is timely. The church is doing everything they can to follow social distancing guidelines while supplying those in need with food as well as cleaning supplies and paper products.

“Anyone can come in, you don’t need to be approved or on some list or whatever, it’s just open to everyone,” Peyser said.

The pantry is open on the first and third Thursdays of each month from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

“We just want to help the people who need it, and make it easy for them to have another choice,” Peyser said.

For more information or to make donations, call the church at 906-482-2010, or you can drop things off in their mailbox at 205 Montezuma St. in Houghton.

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