Food site reopens after new volunteers step up to the plate

Emma Crevier | Photo illustration

The Three Rivers Food Site recently announced it would be closing indefinitely due to concerns over COVID-19 but acting Food Site Manager Josh Williams said the shutdown was lifted just an hour and a half after it was announced.

Longtime Food Site Manager David Berry called Williams after it was decided the site would close but Williams asked if he could operate the site in Berry’s absence. 

“I asked (Berry), ‘Hey, can I open it? I’ll run it myself.’ He thought about it and he was able to get an answer back within an hour or so, so we were only officially shutdown indefinitely for about an hour and a half,” Williams said. “(Berry) put me in contact with Tom (Lowry), and from there I wasn’t sure how we were going to get volunteers. I really had no idea if it was going to be a skeleton crew of me and maybe one other person, and then the community stepped up.”

The food site initially decided to close its doors because the majority of its volunteers are seniors or have underlying health issues that put them at higher risk of contracting the virus.

“Even though our volunteers act young, they’re still getting up there in age, most of them have had heart attacks within in the last 10 years or some kind of health risk,” Williams said. “We had one person who just got out of treatment, chemotherapy, so they’re very susceptible (to COVID-19). While they still feel good, the one thing we don’t want is when this ends — and it will end here in the next few months — is for the core essence of the food site to no longer be here due to (COVID-19).”

On Sunday, April 5, a group of approximately 15 new volunteers joined returning volunteers Jo Barton and Williams for training, prep work, and setup ahead of Tuesday’s return.

“We did a dry run Sunday just to kind of bag up (the food), get ready, do some prep work and get people in their stations,” he said.

On Sunday, April 5, 15 new volunteers joined returning volunteers Jo Barton and Josh Williams for training, prep work, and setup at the Three Rivers Food Site located at 18 Railroad Drive in Three Rivers.

Alek Haak-Frost|Watershed Voice

Williams said the first day back was a success as the site was able to serve 51 families with food but he was expecting a bigger turnout and hopes Thursday will bring greater numbers.

“All-in-all I think we got pretty lucky, I think the need in the community is still there, we were expecting more but bad news travels faster than good news. I think once we announced the food site was shutting down everyone knew about that, but not everybody knows it’s back open,” Williams said. “Fifty-one families, that was an OK day for this time of month without the pandemic. (The lower turnout) give us enough time to kind of figure out our operation: we’re very efficient at this time, (whereas) had we had 40 people lined up at the door at 9 o’clock we might not have gotten everything worked out (as well as we did).” 

Williams said all volunteers at the food site are taking precautions to avoid the spread of COVID-19 by wearing gloves and masks for the duration of their time at the food site.

“Most of the masks are homemade by Jo Barton, and my understanding of those types of masks is they’re not going to protect us, they’re going to protect you,” he said. “I’ll be surprised if I go through this and I don’t get (COVID-19) myself but hopefully I can train the next person so they can takeover while I’m down for a couple of weeks. But as volunteers we are assuming everyone is sick, so we can take precautions and avoid spreading it.”

The Three Rivers Food Site, located at 18 Railroad Drive, will continue to serve approximately seven days’ worth of food to eligible families in Three Rivers and the immediate surrounding area. Each family or individual can apply for and receive assistance once a calendar month. 

The site will also maintain its regular hours each Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon but is only accepting phone appointments at this time. Callers will be given a number prior to their arrival, and should notify outside food site volunteers of that number when they arrive, at which point those volunteers will go inside and retrieve their food items.

Those in need of emergency food assistance may call the food site at (269) 273-2147 as early as 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to schedule an appointment.

Alek Haak-Frost is the executive editor of Watershed Voice.