Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Organizations and businesses based in Ithaca, including Collegetown Bagels, work to help community with food resources.

March 31, 2020

Ithaca Organizations Fight Food Insecurity Amidst Coronavirus Crisis

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Ithaca’s food pantries, nonprofits and private businesses have tailored their practices to address food insecurity in the time of COVID-19.

According to The Ithaca Voice, 14 percent of Ithaca’s residents were food insecure as of 2018, indicating that a significant percentage of the population could not access quality food on a consistent basis. The pandemic, according to Salvation Army Lieutenant Stacy McNeil, could exacerbate the problem.

Some organizations, like the Ithaca Kitchen Cupboard Food Pantry, have started to serve to-go meals.

The Kitchen Cupboard shares 150 North Albany Street with the Ithaca branch of the Salvation Army. According to McNeil, the two organizations have worked closely to adapt the food pantry’s methods.

Instead of allowing in-person shopping, the Kitchen Cupboard permits clients to place phone orders on weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. McNeil said the food pantry remains committed to giving shoppers choices.

“When you don’t give a client a choice, then 50 percent of food goes to waste, and we don’t want to waste,” she said.

Additionally, the Kitchen Cupboard serves weekend meals from a delivery truck. It has partnered with Ithaca’s Department of Social Services to deliver meals to people in quarantine due to the pandemic.

Community demand for the Kitchen Cupboard’s services has risen significantly since the start of COVID-19.

“Our numbers are significant. We’ve probably doubled, if not tripled, the number of families that we’re serving in a week,” McNeil said.

At the same time, McNeil added, the number of volunteers and staff members at the Kitchen Cupboard has declined.

Many volunteers come from Ithaca’s “vulnerable population,” and certain circumstances have prevented them from working at the food pantry.

“Normally, the Salvation Army staff don’t play a huge role in the food pantry operations,” she said. “But my whole staff is now a part of the food pantry operations on a daily basis.”

The food pantry provides gloves, hand sanitizer and masks for all workers and volunteers.

Other non-profit organizations such as Loaves and Fishes and Tompkins Community Action have tailored their operations for the pandemic. Loaves and Fishes provides to-go meals from 210 North Cayuga Street. Tompkins Community Action  switched operations to an appointment-only basis.

Several for-profit organizations, like Collegetown Bagels, have also adopted new policies to assist community members in need of food.

CTB calls its program a “community kitchen,” according to owner Gregar Brous. At its downtown location, 301 East State Street, customers can pay what they wish for all regular menu items.

As the United States economy declines and unemployment rates climb, food insecurity may become a more widespread issue. Brous told The Sun that the new “pay what you can” policy protects Ithaca’s rising unemployed population.

Further, the restaurant puts excess food out on tables in front of the store at 4 p.m., each business day.

“It makes it easier for people to just pick up things and go. They don’t even need to come to the front door,” Brous said.

According to Brous, business has slowed for CTB. The eatery now requires fewer workers, because fewer customers come to the store.

At this time, CTB also imposed a six-foot social distance order between workers and customers. Customers are not permitted to eat inside the establishment.

“Our primary business at this point is delivery,” Brous said. “And the next business is curbside pickup. And then there’s just a few people that still come into the stores.”

On March 21, Collegetown Bagels partnered with World Central Kitchen to inform its new practices.

Ithaca’s organizations encouraged the community to get involved and to help mitigate food insecurity.

“We need to-go stuff, and we need bottled water and bottled drinks, because we can’t serve and sit around a table,” McNeil said. “So if there’s anyone that is looking to make donations of items, it would be great for them to contact us.”