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Pandemic increases need at Holland-based food pantry

Community Action House says it has served almost as many people in last few months as they served all of last year.

HOLLAND, Michigan — A Holland food pantry quadrupled it's output in the early months of the pandemic, and while the need has slowed somewhat there's still real concern for what's to come as the economic downturn continues. 

On March 16, six days after the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Michigan, Community Action House turned its operation on its head. The pantry, which also provides wrap around resources to Holland and Zeeland area families, moved from an indoor store system to curbside pickup only. 

"I remember on that first day on Monday, there were lines around the block," said Scott Rumpsa, executive director of Community Action House. 

Since then, Rumpsa said, Community Action House has served the equivalent of over 167,233 meals as of July 8, which is just under what they served in total last year.

"One of the things that we found most telling about this time, is that we've had so many families for the first time ever rely on our service, or rely on food support," Rumpsa said. "It's families that were paycheck to paycheck, but were overall financially stable."

In the early months of the pandemic, over 60% of the families Community Action House served had never used their services prior. Right now, about 20-30% of guests each week are coming to the pantry for the first time. 

Rumpsa said he attributes that to layoffs and lapses in unemployment. 

"Folks are losing work. Then next week, many of those people end up in our lines," he said. 

Currently, the nonprofit is serving about two times its historic average, which feels relatively calm in comparison to the first few months of coronavirus. But, Rumpsa said he thinks there could be another surge once the $600 supplemental unemployment aid expires at the end of July. 

"What that looks like if folks aren't back at work yet, is someone will take a 60% plus, weekly pay cut overnight," he said. "And we think our lines might get even longer yet again, and we'll see another spike in service."

Chara Bouma-Prediger, a resource specialist at Community Action House, said in place of their usual face-to-face interaction, they've been conducting follow up calls with first time guests to ensure they have access to all the necessary resources.

"Because that was a large part of what we did, pre-covid," Bouma-Prediger said. 

There is no financial requirement to utilize Community Action House's resources. Guests must live in the service area, which includes the 49423, 49424 and 49460 zip codes. Call (616) 392-2368 to schedule a pickup time between 1-4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday, and 8:30-11:30 a.m. on Wednesday and Friday. The curbside pickup includes a perishable food box, including frozen meat, fruit, vegetables and bread along with 7 to 10 days worth of non-perishables and some personal care items. The organization recently started preparing Latinx and Asian cuisine boxes to give clients more choices. 

"We're here for you and this is a unique time," Bouma-Prediger said.  "Maybe you haven't needed to come to a pantry before, but we're really happy to be able to help you if you need it right now."

On average, Community Action House serves families of 3.5 people, and larger families are provided with additional resources. Families are encouraged to come back whenever there is an emergency, but if possible, the pantry asks that visits are spaced out by two weeks. 

Takeout meals are also available at two of Community Action House's other sites. Click here for details.

"This is a problem and challenge for our community that's not going away tomorrow, and we've had to buy more food than we ever have in the past as an organization," Rumpsa said. 

He said community support in the form of both monthly monetary contributions and in kind donations have helped them meet the increasing need. Click here to learn more about how to contribute to Community Action House.

If you're interested in making a monetary donation to the 13 Food For Families campaign, which benefits Community Action House, United Way of the Lakeshore COVID-19 Food Response Fund and Access of West Michigan — click the link below. 

Donate here: Click here to donate! 

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► Emma Nicolas is a multimedia journalist. Have a news tip or question for Emma? Get in touch by email, Facebook or Twitter.

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