Local church helps meet the grocery needs of its seniors

Volunteers at one local church are offering to pick up groceries for members unable to get out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jennifer Reinhardt, who coordinates the Food Pantry for Grace Church in Bay City, said the 400-member congregation is composed primarily of seniors, who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Last week when COVID-19 restrictions stepped up, a handful of church members formed a team to find solutions. This week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered Michigan to follow a Stay Home executive order that allows people to leave their homes only for limited reasons.

The agencies and businesses offering help changes as resources become available. For the latest information, Bay County residents should call (888) 636-4211 to contact 211 Northeast Michigan. Residents can also dial 211 or text their zip code to TXT211. Anyone offering help also is asked to register with 211 in order to help local officials identify service gaps.

The program at Grace Church is focused on helping its own members. “We just kind of brainstormed how we could help others in our community,” said Reinhardt. “We were going to volunteer to help with the children’s needs in the community, but we found a lot of that was taken care of already.”

Archie Gittins, RSVP Community Services Director with the United Way of Bay County, said several businesses and agencies are providing meals for kids during the crisis.

He said schools throughout Bay County are providing drive-through box lunch service for children. The Dow Bay Area Family Y is also providing boxed breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. The meals are delivered to cars, limiting exposure for families. Some of the many area businesses also providing meals and supplies for kids include:

While families with kids are getting what they need, Grace Church saw the need to provide for the vulnerable adults in their ranks, said Office Administrator Carol Fry. “Our congregation is on the older side, so we do have those that need shopping done for them,” Fry said.

After targeting seniors as a group needing services, Reinhardt said the team of about five people talked about how to meet the needs of vulnerable adults. They came up with providing grocery shopping services. They got their first call for help on the first day they opened, Mon., March 23.

The plan is simple. Volunteers use a church credit card to purchase the groceries, then make arrangements over the phone with the person who needs the supplies. “There is no exchange between the person delivering the groceries and the person requesting the service, but the volunteer just delivers the groceries onto the person’s porch,” Reinhardt said.

For now, payment isn’t required. “We’re not really worried that the church will be reimbursed,” Reinhardt said. What’s important is people get what they need.

Reinhardt said the church is initially only taking grocery requests from members, but depending on how long the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order lasts, they may expand the program.

Other sources of help exist. Gittins said contacting 211 is the best way to locate those services. Gittins said 211 can let people know which food pantries are still operating. Most food pantries have non-perishable food items, so meats, cheeses and fresh produce are not typically available, he said.

For the time being, though Reinhardt said along with calling 211, Grace Church volunteers are encouraging people to use “natural supports,” whenever possible. She said family members and other close contacts are the best first line resources.



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