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Food pantry sees long lines amid COVID-19 concerns

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PINCKNEYVILLE (WSIL) -- Hundreds of families kept their distance while in line Friday at The Least of the Brethren Food Pantry in Pinckneyville, where organizers said, despite the virus, their mission is to feed those in need.

The pantry has operated for more than two decades and began hosting Food Fairs through a partnership with The St. Louis Area Food Bank.

"It's all about feeding the hungry," said Betty Culley, who manages the pantry with her husband George. "We've got a good variety of food here, good variety of food makes for better nutrition in each box that I make for the clients."

The Food Bank supplies the pantry with nearly 20 tons of both fresh and non-perishable items. The pantry provides food for more than 300 families each month, with Food Fairs drawing nearly the same number in one day.

"Well, with the coronavirus, of course, that expands the need," said Culley. "They all want to stock up. And I don't blame them, we encourage them to come stock up their food."

Franklin County resident Jon Joplin was in line for several hours, he said empty shelves and job losses due to COVID-19 is contributing to more people in line.

"It's just really hard, but, people gotta do what they gotta do," said Joplin, adding that this was his first visit to the Pinckneyville pantry, which serves residents within a 60-mile radius. "They're actually taking food to people's cars and helping them put the food in the cars, which I think is wonderful."

Longer lines are common when the pantry holds its Food Fair events, and those lines are regularly made up of recipients in cars receiving curb-side service.

"We've been doing this ten years," said George Culley. "Thank you Jesus for St. Louis Area Food Bank, Mobile Market. They bring it down here and they deliver it to us, but this is the first time we had to have the people outside, not come inside."

And that was due to COVID-19 precautions, which Mrs. Culley said changed how they were allow to operate Friday. Only volunteers were allowed inside while hand sanitizer and generous wipe downs kept their required paperwork process safe.

"I believe it helps ease anxiety," said Mrs. Culley. "Because if they know they have food, then they're going to calm down a little bit, and they know this isn't going to be forever, it will be over, just stay close to Jesus, if I may say, and he will get you through it."

Organizers at the Pantry said they help everyone to the best of their ability and rely on volunteers to make it all possible. The Pantry is open Monday through Friday from 9 until noon.

Joe Rehana

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