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story.lead_photo.caption A volunteer hauls food out to a car during a recent distribution day at the SERVE food pantry. Due to high demand and low donations, the food pantry is cutting back hours — it'll now be open from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays. Photo by Olivia Garrett / Fulton Sun.

Callaway County residents facing layoffs and empty grocery store shelves are turning toward SERVE's food pantry for help.

The high volume of new clients means the food pantry's own shelves are starting to look bare, SERVE Executive Director Courtney Harrison said. Late last week, SERVE announced it had "truly underestimated" the number of families in need of food.

"The week before last, which was a fairly normal week, we saw around 130 (different) families," Harrison said Tuesday. "Last week was when we really started seeing our numbers rise. We saw nearly 500 non-duplicated families last week. Close to 100 were brand-new clients who've never used food pantry services in our life."

She added of those 100 new families, 98 were living below the poverty line.

"What that tells me, these families have been getting by, but now one or two days off work without pay, and you're in a position where you can't put food on the table," she said.

How to help

Demand has remained high. That's why SERVE has organized what they're calling the "Porch Pick-Up Food Drive" on Thursday and Friday. Participation is easy: Call SERVE (573-643-6388) to add your address to the pickup route and confirm which day you're participating. Then, simply place the food items you wish to donate on your front porch in the morning. SERVE Tran bus drivers will come by and pick up the items.

"We want to try to maintain social distancing and keep everybody safe, eliminate spread or contamination," Harrison said. "We know people want to help but aren't able to leave home to bring us the food."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned the virus that causes COVID-19 can linger on surfaces for several days, so donations will remain in storage for at least two days before being distributed, Harrison said.

Though donations of nonperishable food are preferable, everything's welcome right now.

"We need anything and everything, really," she  said. "We're low on everything from crackers to soups to meat to potatoes, eggs, dairy. As fast as our food is going, nonperishable versus perishable doesn't really matter."

Harrison said if the pick-up food drive is a hit, SERVE may repeat it regularly.

People may also donate money directly to serve through PayPal (paypal.me/serveinc), Venmo (@SERVE-inc) or by using the "Donate" button on Facebook.

"We've reached out to many local food distributors to try to get food donations through them, and we're trying to figure out how to order in bulk and continue feeding," Harrison said.

High demand is only one reason why SERVE's need is so dire, she said: The supply's been down, too.

SERVE receives much of its food from the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. While the food bank is still distributing food to its partnered food pantries, shipments are shrinking, Harrison explained. SERVE is currently receiving about a third less than usual, and extra drop-offs aren't currently an option.

Donations from individuals have also fallen.

"I think people are unsure what's going to happen and uncertain for their own future financial situation," she said. "Any extra food products, hygiene products people have, they aren't as likely to give away, because they don't know if they're going to need it themselves."

That said, area residents and businesses have already stepped up to help SERVE in myriad ways, Harrison added. Recently, Callabyte Technology donated multiple boxes full of peanut butter to the food pantry for immediate distribution.

"We were happy to deliver 247 pounds of peanut butter to them and thank those who made this possible," the company posted on Facebook.

The Missouri School for the Deaf donated a huge amount of perishable goods after sending students home, and Fulton Cinema 8 donated cleaning products.

Hours reduced

So far, that extra help hasn't been quite enough to keep up with the increased demand. SERVE announced Tuesday they planned to cut back distribution to from 9 a.m.-3 p.m Mondays and Thursdays only. (The pantry distributed food Monday-Friday last week.)

Those who wish to receive food may drive to the front of the building for check-in. They'll then be directed to the back of the building where employees and volunteers are loading food directly into cars. SERVE has temporarily dropped income requirements: "Everyone qualifies" is the current mantra.

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