The folks who run Safford-area food pantries are a bit concerned. They’ve seen a large drop off in the number of elderly visitors.
Stacy Scarce, Our Neighbors Farm and Pantry director, and Carmen Burnham Tellez, president of the Saint Vincent De Paul pantry, said they are seeing very few older patrons lately.
The women believe seniors may be too frightened to leave their homes due to COVID-19 and transportation may be an issue, too.
Before COVID-19, a small bus would come to St. Vincent’s with at least 15 seniors, now the same bus arrives with only two, Tellez said. Seniors were the most steadfast population attending the pantry until the past few months, she said.
Scarce said she and several other volunteers have been delivering food boxes to seniors on their own time. Pantry volunteers have even been calling the seniors who used to regularly come to the pantry for food to check on them.
Sharon Valencia, program manager for Meals on Wheels, said the number of people attending the monthly food distribution has remained consisted over the last three months. Typically, 70-80 people ages 55 and older participate in the drive-through operation, she said.
Many of the people who attend the drive-through are Safford Senior Center members. However, Valencia said many seniors are at home and isolated. Sometimes the only people they interact with are those who deliver their Meals on Wheels.
Since they live in such extreme isolation, the meals program calls each senior in the program daily to check in and ask if the senior is okay, Valencia said.
The number of people using the Our Neighbors and St. Vincent’s pantries have returned to normal levels, but Scarce and Tellez said they are seeking a lot of new faces, mostly people who have recently lost their jobs.
Shortly after the pandemic hit, Our Neighbors was seeing 65 people a day, lately they’ve been seeing around 30, Scarce said. In August, the pantry fed 35 new households.
Both pantries have seen a decline in volunteers.
Many of her volunteers have health issues and they don’t want to risk getting COVID-19 while at the pantry, Scarce said.
Scarce is also a bit concerned about donations.
The canned food supply at the Our Neighbors Farm and Pantry is greatly dependent on the annual school canned food drive. Last year the pantry received more canned food than ever at over 38,000 cans, but Scarce is worried about what will happen if schools have to close again.
“We rely on that school food drive to almost get us through the year. We’ve been getting pretty good donations (from the stores) for the past seven weeks, but the last week and a half we’ve been getting very very little donations,” said Scarce. “We’re having to supplement produce with canned goods, which is making our canned goods go even faster.”
Many of the grants the pantry depended on in the past are not available anymore, either, Scarce said. Now the pantry has to rely on local monetary donations to purchase food.
As for St. Vincent’s, Tellez said they receive donations from the local grocery stores and the Catholic Church. She purchases roughly $3,000 worth of food a month for the pantry each month, and each person who visits the pantry goes home with approximately $150 worth of food.