Local food pantries still at work during pandemic

The Bridge Community Pantry is practicing social distancing while still providing their service in a new way with a drive-up food pantry. (Submitted Photo)

The COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order has changed the way that all business operate, this includes how local food pantries. Ruby’s Food Pantry of Perham and The Bridge Community Pantry have both been working to find ways to keep providing their important community services to those who need them.

Ruby’s Food Pantry

“Because of COVID-19, we’ve had to radically change the way we’re going to do this,” said David Pawlowski in a phone interview with the Focus. Pawlowski is Ruby’s Food Pantry of Perham’s site leader .

Normally the pantry would set up at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Perham on the fourth Saturday of the month. In March, however, that did not happen due to the stay-at-home order.

On Saturday, April 25, the guests of Ruby’s Food Pantry of Perham will be asked to stay in their cars as they register and a food bundle is brought out to them. “It’s really no different than someone going to the grocery store and having their food brought out,” Pawlowski said. This new way will be done by about 23 volunteers instead of the normal 60.

The food bundles distributed by Ruby’s Food Pantry of Perham are composed of packaged foods sent to the site from Ruby’s distribution center, Pawlowski said. The amount of food sent is based on how many people are expected to show up, any leftovers get donated to The Bridge Community Pantry in Perham and the Refuge in Detroit Lakes, and is then divided into equal bundles with about 14 to 16 items each, Pawlowski said.


The food bundles include items such as packaged fruits, vegetables, meats, bread, and paper products, Pawlowski said.

“We’re hoping that in this manner we’ll be able to do this safely and with minimum risk of exposure,” Pawlowski said.

The Bridge Community Pantry

Normally The Bridge Community Pantry would open its doors every Tuesday morning. Clients would be taken through the pantry to shop for necessities with a volunteer who would help distribute supplies to them based on the size of the family. “We have sort of a modified approach,” pantry Executive Director John Leikness said in a phone call with the Focus.

Now, people who come to the Bridge Community Pantry for food go through a drive-up system where volunteers using social distancing check them in, prepare a food package appropriate for the size of the family for them, Leikness said.

“It’s a modified version of just handing people a box,” Leikness said.

Basic supplies, such as baking supplies and packaged food, are prepacked in a box.

“A smaller family gets one box and larger families get two boxes,” Leikness said. A volunteer then picks out the appropriate amount of fresh produce, milk, eggs and meat to the boxes before weighing them.

“Then the door from the inside is opened and the cart is put into the entryway,” Leikness said. “The outside door is opened and then the volunteers go back and close the inside door. The client was previously instructed that once the door is open they can get out of the car, secure the cart, unload the food, put the cart back in the entryway, close the door, and at which point we know that it's safe to go in, we grab the cart, wipe it down, and return it for normal use.”


The Bridge Community Pantry’s Moblie Pantry has been closed until a plan to provide the service using social distancing can be devised, Leikness said. Those who use the mobile pantry have been encouraged to come to Perham on Tuesday mornings.

“We’re looking at a process that we think can work. Hopefully, we’ll be restarting that in time for the first Tuesday of this coming month,” Leikness said.

The Otter Express has offered to deliver food boxes to people who normally use the Otter Express to get to the pantry free of charge, Leikness said.

Charlie Nelson from Tuffy’s has also donated dog food, which is not normally available at the pantry, so that people would not be giving up anything to keep their pets from suffering, Leikness said. About 41% of people who have visited the pantry have pets and were grateful for the supplies to feed their pets. “It was a very nice tribute for Charlie to do that,” Leikness said.

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