Love INC among those doing it for neighbors

Volunteers (from left) Bob Gooley, Paul Vining and Jeremie Winkelman fill bags with dog food in the storage room of Love In the Name of Christ. The ministry will begin giving out a month’s worth of groceries at a time to area residents in need of food.
Volunteers (from left) Bob Gooley, Paul Vining and Jeremie Winkelman fill bags with dog food in the storage room of Love In the Name of Christ. The ministry will begin giving out a month’s worth of groceries at a time to area residents in need of food. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

As many businesses across the nation scramble to weather the threat of the coronavirus, those organizations who serve others, such as Love In the Name of Christ, have had to think out of the box and on their feet to make sure the community’s hungry neighbors receive the food they need.

Love INC Executive Director Erin Didion says how the ministry is handling the precautions needed to stay safe during the COVID-19 outbreak is constantly changing, but several changes are in place to allow them to help the community.

“Like every other agency in town, things are changing day to day and hour to hour,” Didion says. “We are doing our best to ensure that everyone who walks in here is still treated with dignity and respect, but that we are well aware of protecting their health as well.”

At the Love INC pantry, a six-foot perimeter between the receptionist and visitors has been created, with chairs in the reception room moved to allow for the six-foot distance. All classes held at the ministry have also been postponed indefinitely.

Didion says there has been a slight increase in calls to the clearing house, mostly from those seeking financial assistance.

“I think a lot of our neighbors are being impacted at their places of employment, starting to get a little anxious and be pro-active – like, ‘How am I going to pay my rent next month?’” she says. “We definitely are seeing an increase, but we are all in uncharted territory and we are trying to do our best to serve those who are calling in here. But we’re not sure how long it’s going to last.”

Among the adjustments that Love INC has enacted include closing its Covered With Love store until the end of March. A decision to re-open the store will be made a “day at a time,” says Didion.

Changes with one of the ministry’s most utilized programs, the food pantry, include clients now only allowed to pick up food on Fridays, says Assistant Director Kelley Miller. That means the pantry will be closed Monday through Thursday.

Those picking up food will not be given a choice of what they get, but they’ll receive more food, Miller says. Pre-bagged items will be given out with enough groceries to last a month, in order to minimize the number of times residents need to come in to the pantry. The “free table” will not be offered at this time.

“Neighbors can come in once a month to get their supply of food instead of coming in twice for a menu every single Friday,” Miller says. “Then they don’t have to be coming and going quite as much if we should have any sort of quarantine come up. We hope this will lessen the fears of running out of food at home.”

It is also strongly advised that families send only one representative per household; however, a proxy will be allowed to pick up food for anyone who is sick or not able to make it to the pantry.

Teen Packs – the equivalent of Blessings in a Backpack meals for middle and high school kids – will be delivered to Crestview and Riverview middle schools, Huntington North High School and Love INC via the Huntington County Community School Corporation bus transportation department.

Kids getting the packs will receive a month’s supply at one time.

“They’ll get five Teen Packs for each child, and that should last them through April,” Miller adds.

Youth who want to sign up for the program may do so by calling the Love INC Clearing House at 356-0933.

For the elderly, area churches will be contacted to assist with delivering Senior Packs, with one delivery scheduled this month and one in April. Food bags will be left on porches or at front doors and drivers will sign as proxy for those Seniors receiving deliveries.

Miller adds the ministry will continue to serve the community during the restrictive period. Although
area grocery stores have been out of staples such as milk, she has been able to order foodstuffs through Community Harvest Food Bank
Miller can obtain meat, some boxed items, soup and cereal from Community Harvest, as long as supplies last.

“Again, it’s going to be changing day to day because all of the food pantries will be relying on Community Harvest because they can’t get orders from the stores,” Miller says. “We’ll do the best we can for as long as we can.”

The Love INC telemedicine clinic is also on hiatus during the outbreak period, with its base Matthew 25 Clinic only open to treat emergency needs of their current patients.

“They prefer people call first,” says Miller. “But if they are a Huntington resident and still need medications, they can still call Matthew 25 and get their medications refilled.”

As a result of the restrictions, many of Love INC’s army of volunteers – namely those over the age of 60 – have been told to stay home. Didion says it was a hard decision to make, since 90 percent of the ministry’s volunteers are over 60.

Volunteers who are over age 60 and are healthy will be allowed to come in on Thursdays and pack food into the bags that will be distributed on Fridays. Younger, healthy volunteers are also welcome, Miller adds. Help is needed with the pantry on Thursdays and Fridays.

In spite of the upheaval brought about by the ever-changing reports of coronavirus activity, Miller says everyone is making the best of the situation.

“So far everybody’s just pulled together and wants the best for each other,” she says. “We haven’t had any anger or frustration from our volunteers or the neighbors we’ve seen; they’ve been very understanding and they seem to want to protect their health and their family’s health, too.”

Love INC is still accepting donations of food and household supplies. Miller says the Huntington County community has been exceedingly generous in helping to keep the larder filled. Monetary donations are also needed, which will give her additional buying power when she contacts Community Harvest to order more supplies. People making monetary donations should note in the memo “in response to the COVID-19 virus” so the funds will be used where most needed in the pantry.

While it will be hard to serve the community without allowing the public to come inside it building, Didion says if a volunteer or neighbor is diagnosed with COVID-19 and has been in the building within the last 14 days they will close the building for 24 hours. Leaders will work with the health department to notify anyone who may possibly have come in contact with that person, while following CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting the facility.