For the safety of its 300 or so residents and its staff, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has gone into various levels of lockdown since March of 2020. Like other congregant facilities, such as nursing homes where people share close quarters, the campus has had to be particularly careful about how it handles the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our maintenance staff jumped into action mode. We were making our own hand sanitizer. We received bleach generators from WaterStep. We had volunteers making masks. It was a MacGyver moment,” said Ed Wnorowski, executive director and CEO, looking back on the early days of the pandemic.
“All in all, we’ve come through this much better than I feared. I was, quite frankly, concerned we’d have rampant infection transfer. But if you social distance, mask, and wash your hands it really does reduce the transmission rate.”
In April of 2020, he said, 20 COVID-19 cases arose in the men’s overnight shelter. Beyond that initial outbreak, the campus weathered the pandemic without major difficulties.
The Society managed it with a committed staff and help from the community, he said.
The Open Hand Kitchen, which normally provides two buffet-style hot meals a day to anyone who’s hungry, had to scramble at first before hitting its stride as a lunch and dinner take-out service, said David Sharpe, marketing and communications coordinator.
Brown-Forman provided brown bag lunches, made by its cafeteria, initially, which helped the Open Hand Kitchen weather the statewide lockdown in March and April and plan its next steps.
Fazoli’s and Little Caesars donated significant amounts of prepared food during the pandemic. And Dare to Care, a regular partner, continued its important support, he said.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Albert the Great churches also became key partners in the pandemic, he said.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel checked in with the kitchen each month to see what was needed and donated fruit, hamburger, whatever was missing. St. Albert donated $500 a month as the kitchen served hot meals in styrofoam carryout containers.
On July 1, the kitchen reopened as a traditional dining room with a buffet, though it has a substantial plexiglass guard between the food and guests.
Now that it’s returning to some normalcy, the Society is hoping the community will continue its support with some hands-on help.
Volunteers are most needed to help serve food in the buffet line. Donna Young, who coordinates volunteers, said parish groups and individuals are needed to make monthly commitments to serve lunch or dinner.
“Prior to the pandemic, about 20 parishes were on the schedule. Most of them are coming back, but a few have said no due to their age. You expect that after a year and a half. We also have a few teams from the neighboring churches, like Little Flock (Baptist Church).”
On July 6, just a few days after volunteers were welcomed back, just one volunteer was on hand to help serve lunch.
“I think it’s really a worthwhile experience,” said Young. “I think sometimes people are apprehensive to come down here. But the kitchen is a safe place. After being here one time you see how rewarding it is and how much our clientele appreciates it. Very seldom do you have someone who does not say, ‘Thank you, thank you for being here.’ It’s easy and you really feel like you’re making a difference.”
The Society’s choice food pantry, which allows clients to select their own food, was suspended during the pandemic and became a regular food pantry. Organizers hope clients will be able to begin choosing their groceries again soon.
To volunteer or for more information, contact Young at 301-8688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.