Fifth Street, FeedNC adjust to potential outbreak, but do not limit aid to those who need it most

As shoppers race to fill their pantries ahead of a potential outbreak of coronavirus in Iredell County, there is a segment of the population in danger of being overlooked in the preparations: the homeless.

The threat of the pandemic, and the cautious approach to it, have led to changes at both Fifth Street Ministries in Statesville and FeedNC in Mooresville.

Fifth Street, which has 150 beds for those seeking shelter and feeds the homeless and hard-hit daily, has taken steps to limit contact among those working in the ministry, those benefitting from it and those trying to help both.

The organization is no longer allowing volunteers to help on site.

“We’re just trying to limit contact and trying to limit the number we have on our campus to help keep everyone safe,” Executive Director Patti West said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s been a lessening of services.

“The kitchen is still open to the community because we sure don’t want people to go hungry,” West said.

If the coronavirus outbreak worsens, though, the facility is prepared for quarantine measures as needed.

Meanwhile, those who are keeping the mission moving forward do face additional challenges with their workload. West doesn’t comment much on that, instead focusing on keeping the risk low and protecting those who work there and those who are staying.

But if the virus outbreak stretches into a lengthy period of time, then there would be cause for concern. If more people are home and not working, especially those who depend on a weekly paycheck and may not have the resources or paid time off that some others do, then more people would need the services offered by Fifth Street. If the shutdowns begin to affect the chain of food supply, then there would be an issue for the organization as well.

“What worries me is the food supply,” West said. “It depends on what that looks like over the next month or six weeks.

“If transportation is cut, that concerns me about food coming in and what grocery stores will have.”

If people are home and not going out as much, that could impact the food donations from the community as well.

The potential impact of this on the homeless population — and groups providing for them — is like most everything else; it depends on how severe this gets.

“(It depends) on how this hits Iredell County,” West said. “We’re certainly OK for the next week or 10 days or so. If food doesn’t come in, it could become a concern.”

To protect the community and the residents, Fifth Street is changing some of its donation policies for the foreseeable future.

While it will still take food items, it is asking people not to bring in the clothing and household items at this point just to limit contact.

Just like what people are adding for their homes, they need canned foods. Meat “is gold to us.”

Fifth Street can use eggs, milk, pasta, dried beans, spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce. Anything that “can be stretched to feed a lot of people.”

Fifth Street served at least 94,000 last year. An outbreak of any kind could obviously ramp that up significantly.

While stores are notably emptying their shelves as residents store food and supplies for a possible period of time being at home, it is important to keep in mind that those most vulnerable in the community don’t have that option.

As West points out, the people who utilize Fifth Street also have a higher rate of chronic disease — respiratory issues, cardiac issues and others — which make many of them at higher risk if exposed to the virus.

With all of that in mind, West is focused on preparation. There’s no panic, just an intensity of creating a plan to handle anything that might happen in the coming weeks. Schools have closed for two weeks, potentially adding to the work Fifth Street faces.

It’s the same scenario in Mooresville. Greg Williams, administrative specialist at FeedNC, said they are “trying our best to serve the public as best as we can.”

Director Lara Ingram said Friday that if school’s closed, the site would close for two days to clean the building and for planning and getting their volunteers organized.

“After the two days of cleaning and planning, we intend to keep the building closed to the public but will continue to do all the essential feeding programs, a hot meal in a box to go, the pantry items pre-boxed at the side door,” Ingram said.

She noted that FeedNC, for the time being, will look more like a to-go restaurant and a store with pick up service while the schools are closed, instead of the normal gathering of 150 people in the building. But “we will still be feeding people,” she said.

“We have every intention of feeding every child that needs to be fed,” Ingram said, “and will ramp up if we need to, to reach out.”

Volunteers who feel comfortable coming are still welcome to come and help, Williams said. But he stressed that safety is first.

As many of their volunteers are in the high-risk group and are not able to be there to help out, Ingram said that they already have churches calling to step in and help.

Like everyone else, they are waiting to see what happens — and trying to prepare for any worst-case scenario.

“We have never been through anything like this before,” West said. “We are trying to be proactive and put things into place so we will not be caught off guard if it does get monumental. Hopefully it will not get to that point.”

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