While COVID-19 has shuttered businesses across the state, nonprofit relief organizations are as busy as ever.
As the only food bank in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Second Harvest supplies items to soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters across the region. These lifelines have become even more crucial as individuals and families, many in already tenuous circumstances, now face lost wages and economic uncertainty due to the virus.
The number of new households seeking food assistance in Erie County jumped over 200% in March.
Karen Seggi, a Gannon alumna and the CEO of Second Harvest, couldn’t be prouder of how the network is operating under these challenging circumstances.
“Many of the volunteers in our member agencies are in the age group that is more vulnerable to COVID-19, but God bless their hearts, they are staying open,” Seggi said. “They are so committed to caring for their neighbors in need.
“At this point, we’re trying to make their jobs as easy and safe as possible.”
Second Harvest headquarters is operating a little differently than normal. The centralized distribution warehouse has been closed to volunteers, maintaining only essential staff members who have been reassigned to pack food boxes. That’s not a task they normally do, but Seggi said it’s being done so community organizations don’t need as many volunteers.
“We want volunteers at our member agencies to be able to distribute food efficiently and maintain a safe six-foot distance,” she said.
The warehouse staff brought in their family members to increase efficacy without putting volunteers from the general public at risk.
Seggi’s husband, plus the couples’ two college-age children, are among those pitching in.
Abiding by the constantly changing CDC and governmental regulations has been challenging, but Seggi said everyone is prepared to think creatively to continue safely providing food to the most vulnerable.
Typically, individuals can help Second Harvest by volunteering with a local agency or organizing a food drive, but both of those options are currently halted.
An additional strain facing Second Harvest is that grocery stores, which usually provide a consistent stream of donations, are now selling most of their products.
“So the best way to contribute right now is through monetary donations,” Seggi said. “Those will help us order food and get it into our network and onto a family’s table.”
Financial gifts from the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority and Erie Community Foundation have given Second Harvest the ability to provide food to those in need for the foreseeable future, but individual donations are still welcomed and can be made online at www.nwpafoodbank.org.
To register for food, call Second Harvest’s Food Line at 814-459-3663, ext. 117, or visit www.nwpafoodbank.org/agency-locator. No paperwork or documentation is required.
“Our mission is to provide food to people who are hungry, and that need is not going away,” Seggi said. “We’re putting our trust in God and preparing for the long haul.”