Johnson County food pantries collaborate to deliver food during COVID-19

Food pantries in Johnson County are joining forces to create a delivery food service that provides for those in need amid the novel-coronavirus outbreak while also adhering to social-distancing guidelines.


Jenna Galligan

The Coralville Community Food Pantry is seen on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. To help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the pantry has adopted new distribution methods, including curbside pickup and limited deliveries, catering especially to the elderly and those with immunodeficiencies.

Marissa Smith, News Reporter

Local food pantries in Johnson County are teaming up to give back to the community amid the COVID-19 outbreak by providing food for those in need.

The service, a partnership between CommUnity Food Bank, Coralville Community Food Bank, IC Compassion, and North Liberty Community Pantry, will deliver food to those who need a safe method of obtaining it — such as elderly residents or those with compromised immune systems.

Since its launch March 26, the service has administered an average of more than 25 deliveries daily.

“Food delivery is an essential function, as we are finding out and being reminded,” said Sue Dvorsky, United Way of Johnson and Linn Counties campaign co-chair and volunteer at Coralville Community Food Bank.

Sarah Witry, director of services at CommUnity Food Bank in Iowa City, said the project is a collaborative effort between various community partners.

An operator covers the phone calls, Witry said, recording information like the caller’s household needs. Those details are then compiled into a spreadsheet, from which designated staff from all four pantries decide which pantry will deliver to whom based on location, she said.

The chosen pantry then follows up with the caller to determine their food choices, while volunteers and staff prepare pre-packaged bags for delivery. Lazy Boy Delivery and Johnson County SEATS partner with the pantries to execute deliveries, Witry said.

“Just seeing how different groups come together to make sure food reaches people who need it is inspiring,” said Vicki Flaherty, another Coralville Community Food Bank volunteer.

Coralville Food Pantry Programs and Communications Coordinator Paola Jaramillo Guayara said there has been an increase in the number of Johnson County residents who need food because of the COVID-19 crisis, but social-distancing guidelines have significantly altered how the pantries can operate.

Clients can no longer walk in and pick out their own food due to social-distance protocol that restricts more than 10 people from sharing a space at once, said Guayara.

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Each pantry is also taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by ensuring that all staff and volunteers wear gloves, wash their hands upon arrival and departure and at least every half hour, sanitize surfaces, employ less than 10 people at a time, remain six feet apart at all times, and avoid eating and drinking, Witry and Guayara said.

“Staff that chose to be in the line of fire realize they put themselves at risk but it’s so worth it,” Guayara said.

The food pantries are using a no-contact delivery system in their efforts to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Food deliverers give the food’s recipients a time frame to be expectant for the delivery, then place the bags of food outside their door.

“This is an opportunity for people to get the food they need while still staying safe,” Witry said.

Though the COVID-19 outbreak has altered the way food pantries operate, their core values remain the same: ensuring that people in need receive the food they want on their dinner table, Guayara said.

Guayara and Witry encouraged all Johnson County residents who may be in need to utilize the delivery service.

Any Johnson County resident can call (319) 519-6165 between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to request delivery.

“We have always been there to help anyone in need and we really encourage people to reach out and not to go out,” Witry said. “We have the food and we are committed to serving anyone who needs it.”

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