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Local food closets still assisting people amid COVID-19

With the coronavirus still making things tough for families to get all of the necessary food items because of lack of stock or other variables, food closets are becoming more important than ever.

The West Point Food Closet is a collaborative effort on the part of the West Point Ministerial Alliance. All of the food is USDA approved. Most of it is distributed by Feed the Valley, an affiliate of FeedAmerica.org and some is donated by Publix and Walmart. Feed the Valley has distribution centers in Columbus and LaGrange.

Prior to the coronavirus shutdown, the Food Closet was serving somewhere between 14 to 20 people every Wednesday. It has dropped off since then, possibly due to people staying at home or because they have received stimulus checks and are buying their food.

“I think people are scared to get out right now because of the coronavirus,” said David Ayres, the director.

A real need for food could come later when an immediate danger of illness is past but large numbers of people are out of work.

For now, the Food Closet’s pantry on the ground-floor level of West Point First Baptist Church is well stocked. Shelves are filled with canned and packaged items, and a freezer and refrigerator are filled with meat and produce.

There are currently some procedures in place to guard against the possible spread of COVID-19.

Recipients are allowed in one person at a time. They first fill out some paperwork that’s required by Feed the Valley and FeedAmerica. Once they are finished, a buggy filled with 65 pounds of assorted food items is wheeled out of the pantry. From it, they can take what they want, place it in grocery store style plastic bags and take it to their car. Once they leave, volunteers clean the tables with sanitizer, wipe them off and allow the next recipient to enter. All the volunteers staffing the Food Closet wear masks and gloves.

“We keep track of who comes to see us each week,” Ayers said.

“We have records of the visit and report it to Feed the Valley. We list the addresses and update it every week. Local companies and local churches are very supportive of what we do, and we appreciate that. West Point Elementary collects pennies for us, and that helps.  In a year’s time, it can come to hundreds of dollars. We are grateful for food donations, but monetary donations are more helpful. We are in position to get lots of food at very low prices. In a year’s time, we can distribute an average of 35,000 pounds of food.”

The food is limited to West Point area residents due to USDA regulations, which prevent the food from crossing state lines.

The Food Closet participates in GNAP, or the Georgia Nutritional Assistance Program, which is geared to those who are 18 years of age or younger. Recipients get a box of food filled with such items as hamburger patties, hamburger buns, hot dogs and hot dog buns.

“Some of the people we serve are taking care of their grandchildren,” Ayers said.

The Interfaith Food Closet, which is located on 20th Avenue behind the Langdale Methodist Church, is currently closed but is planning on reopening on June 3. The West Point Food Closet is open every Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. until noon. West Point area residents who meet certain income requirements can receive up to 65 pounds of free food every other month. If they received food in April, they can receive it again in June.