Mary Anne Schindler sees things getting better, but so much work to still be done.
Schindler, the director of the Matthew 25:35 food pantry at Destrehan’s United Methodist Church, has seen the number of people seeking meal assistance climb over the past year, and March marked the one-year-anniversary of that trend’s beginning, when COVID-19 emerged as a national emergency.
When the calendar turns to April next week, it will kick off National Volunteer Month, and as locals begin to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the occasion may inspire some to help pick up the pieces after a year of damage the illness has wrought.
Schindler said that prior to COVID-19’s emergence, on average Matthew 25:35 fed between 230 and 250 needy families each month. Over the past year, that number has climbed – at its peak, it has doubled at 500 families in a single month, and the number has typically come in between 250-500 families. Nationally, it’s been estimated that one in every five families is food insecure.
“There’s a hunger problem in St. Charles Parish, but with COVID it really grew because so many people were out of work,” Schindler said. “In some cases, people never thought they would be in need, but if there’s not enough money in the bank … you still have to make payments on your house and car note. There’s not enough money left for living.
“So besides what’s normal, there’s also that increase … thankfully, that seems like it’s starting to fade off now. The hope is people are getting back to work now.”
But even if the issue regresses completely to demonstrate pre-COVID numbers, this was always a problem, one that can fly under the radar in St. Charles Parish.
“You have a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren. You have single parents … situations where you can’t bring in enough income to cover everything,” Schindler said.
St. Charles’ moniker as the “Parish of Plenty” may obscure that fact, but another of its reputations has shown to be well-founded – a community known for its generosity has stepped up, and then some, to fortify the food pantry with what it needed to keep the community’s needy fed.
“We were lucky … donations from different people, both individuals and companies, increased this past year,” Schindler said. “A lot of industries cleaned out their hurricane stash, what they were keeping in case they needed to house employees during a storm, and brought it to us. Several of them brought us food. We’ve also been purchasing lots of food ourselves, and we’ve had grocery stores pass on their savings to us and help out. So many people have been very helpful.”
One thing Matthew 25:35 could use a greater supply of, however, is volunteers: many more are needed now than was the case before, due in part to shifting from a walk-in site to a drive thru as COVID precaution.
An assist in that area may come from next month’s Need to Feed Run, the 6th time the event benefiting the Matthew 25:35 pantry will take place and the first time in two years. Last year’s event was cancelled due to COVID.
This time, the event will be held both live and virtually. The 5K live fun run/walk will see a course beginning at United Methodist Church and carrying on to the levee, down to Ormond Plantation and then back to the church. Those who participate will receive a shirt, medal and food. Proceeds for the event will provide food for area families through the food pantry, as well as raise awareness of the need to feed the hungry in St. Charles Parish.
“It makes a difference,” Schindler said. “It brings a lot of awareness and we usually gain a lot of our volunteers from it.”
The run will take place on Saturday, April 24, with registration and packet pick-up starting at 7 a.m. Online and in-person registration is available.
Volunteers with Matthew 25:35 make meal bags each Monday and Tuesday and distribute on Wednesday. Monetary and food donations of any kind are accepted.
Schindler noted other entities helping out include the parish’s libraries – each site is collecting food donations for the month of April. The German Coast Farmer’s Market, meanwhile, will give a gift to anyone bringing three cans of food to donate.