The United Way of the Lakeshore, Oceana County, responded to a “Call for Assistance” from Sharita Prowant, manager for the New Hope Community Church Food Pantry in Shelby.

The director for the Oceana County United Way, Barbara Sims, took the call and listened while Sharita explained her predicament and concern. With limited funds in her “Feeding America” account, used to help fill local pantries with food at discount prices, Sharita feared that she will have to cancel her regular food pantry distribution day on the third Wednesday of the month.

Prowant said, “We have families, many of them elderly and disabled, who regularly come to our pantry for help with food.” Sharita also offers some personal hygiene items as well, such as shampoo, dish and laundry soap, bar soap and toothpaste, but she said that food was most important, especially now, that many families have lost their jobs due to the mandatory closure of many non-essential local businesses.

Sims immediately contacted Feeding America of West Michigan to schedule a Feeding America Food Truck event, with funds from the Oceana United Way Feeding America account April 1 on the New Hope Church grounds. “Normally, we reach out to our corporate donors to help us sponsor a food truck event in the community, which costs about $875 for a 10,000 lb. load of food, feeding approximately 200 families.” This time, Shay Kirk, program coordinator for Feeding America West Michigan, expedited the process with reserve funds from her program.

New guidelines from Feeding America have been issued for all onsite or mobile food pantries during the COVID-19 outbreak and are required to be drive thru style. Sites are responsible for volunteers, boxes, gloves, face coverings and sanitizer, etc. Signatures are waived, but household data should still be collected verbally by a volunteer and recorded on the sign in sheet. Feeding America provides a video showing the procedures to follow and must be viewed by all who volunteer for food distributions.

Prowant contacted volunteers from the Dunkard Brethren Youth Group under the supervision of Carleton Horst, the youth group leader, and other local volunteers to help pack and distribute the food. Sims was onsite throughout the event and reported it was well organized and volunteers followed all safety guidelines. “It was heartwarming to see this remarkable group of young people packing food, interviewing families and loading cars.”

Prowant reported that almost 200 families were served at the New Hope Community Church with all food distributed.

To see a listing of all Oceana County Food Pantries, and special items they need, or to donate to the Oceana United Way COVID-19 Emergency Fund, visit www.unitedwaylakeshore/coronavirushelp.