At some point last week I realized I not only didn’t know the time of day, but I didn’t know the date, very unusual for me, who can usually guess the time within five minutes. Call it a side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as I type the words which name the crisis I’m tired of writing them and tired of reading them. Even those of us who are healthy and comparatively lucky are feeling pandemic fatigue, from the overload of information to the disruption of our usual schedules and shelter in place with no precise end in sight.
Timing is off for everyone because the usual landmarks aren’t in sight. If you had 10 routine meetings as part of your regular schedule, chances are most of them are not happening, or are happening via meeting apps or conference calls. There’s a notion you can tolerate almost anything as long as you know how long it will last, but we don’t know how long this will last. Even without a clear termination it seems safe to say the after effects will be with us for a long time. Some routines won’t resume, some customs won’t survive (handshakes?), some businesses and jobs will not make it through the pandemic.
It’s not all bad news. Disruptions to our routines can be beneficial. Periodic examination of where we are has its insights. Hitting pause can be healthy. We’ve seen the stories about dolphins in suddenly clean Venetian canals, the air clearing over Los Angeles and Europe. Locally we finally got some great weather at a time when more of us than usual can enjoy being outdoors.
If you’re an essential worker and still have to travel, light traffic is nice. Food banks are considered essential operations: “Workers who support food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals…” We felt we were essential even before the declaration, and committed early to staying open as long as we had the ability to operate. Food banks have some important distinctions from a grocery store, yet realistically the most vulnerable among us use them like stores, at minimum supplementing the insufficient amount they can afford to purchase at the store. So far our client numbers have held steady, but we’re waiting for the deluge as many face unemployment or will.
With a couple of notable exceptions our supply streams have so far remained intact. Grocery Rescue is way down because stores contracted under this program have been shopped so hard there’s little excess for donation. That’s always a small trickledown for us, even during normal times, so odd as it sounds at this moment we’re actually in a better position than some food charities because we’ve always purchased the majority of what we distribute anyway and in that regard weren’t unprepared.
We are starting to hear from farms and gardens we work with so that’s a hopeful sign. Those relationships combined with the purchasing we do for fresh and frozen produce allow us to provide healthy choices for those in need. It’s difficult not to anticipate supply streams being affected more seriously at some point as retailers struggle to keep stocked, and as we hear more about adverse conditions in food manufacturing and meat processing plants.
We are down to about 10 percent of our usual volunteer staff, most of whom are seniors and have rightly decided not to risk being out and working with the public. This 10 percent has been incredibly dedicated, focusing on community needs and making the active choice to be here when they don’t have to be. Some of the core staff who have kept us running are younger or folks we didn’t necessarily see often pre-pandemic because of their schedule or work commitments. Likewise, our community have been very kind to us, whether through a financial donation or coming up with a creative way to help. Paraeducator Diane Van Diest sewed masks and sold them by donation to ShareNet, also providing us with a supply.
Our Food2GO program, providing weekend take home food to an average of 100 students per week among the four Kingston public schools, has had to pivot from distribution through the schools. These nutritious and fun packs are now available for pick up onsite at ShareNet on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and we welcome new participants.
ShareNet Food Bank remains open. ShareNet Thrift Store is temporarily closed and not accepting donations at this time. Mark Ince is the director of ShareNet and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org