Providing food and other basic needs for the homeless and people facing food insecurity is never easy, but Greenville’s relief agencies have always met critical needs in creative and meaningful ways. Now the social distancing required to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has made their work more difficult, but that hasn’t lessened the need or their commitment to do their best for the people they serve.
Project Host was established in 1981 and still operates the only soup kitchen in Greenville, using donated and rescued food, vegetables from its on-site garden, and food purchased in bulk. Besides offering a nutritious meal each day, the nonprofit operates a culinary school, bakery and food truck, providing job training opportunities while alleviating hunger.
The nonprofit has dramatically changed the way it serves homeless guests and funds its operations, said Paulette Dunn, chief executive officer. Guests are no longer given a hot meal inside, and all portable meals are prepared by staff members, rather than the approximately 15 volunteers daily who would normally sanitize the kitchen and prepare, cook and distribute food.
Under normal operation, some bakery items are sold at a profit, and the Host Mobile food truck plans corporate stops and other for-profit events, using the funds to sustain free distribution in communities of need. These sales have been discontinued so that staff members can serve free meals in high-risk communities.
“Our annual BBQ Festival fundraiser that was scheduled in April has been canceled, and we anticipate a $40,000 loss this year as we have decided not to reschedule,” Dunn said.
Immediate needs include zip-close bags, #6 brown paper bags, bottled water and shelf-stable items such as individually wrapped crackers, snack mixes, potato chips and other items that can go into a bagged lunch.
“Financial donations would be appreciated to assist us in our efforts to continue to employ staff,” Dunn said. “Contributions will be utilized to underwrite the operating costs of the soup kitchen and food truck service for such things as utilities, equipment repair, fuel and other expenses. We are assessing our needs day-to-day, and we fully expect the need to continue to grow as other businesses close.”
Since 1989, Triune Mercy Center has served hot meals to neighbors in need. Over time, the ministry has grown to include other services, including drug rehab, social work and pro bono legal advice. As at Project Host, Triune is serving bagged lunches in place of its usual hot meals, and its weekly food pantry has moved to the parking lot.
Altered food distribution is only part of what has changed, said Deb Richardson-Moore, Triune’s pastor. With all gatherings canceled, the congregation, a mix of homeless neighbors and members from across the county, is missing a key component of its ministry.
“We are different from a shelter such as the Salvation Army or Miracle Hill or an agency such as United Ministries — we are a worshiping congregation,” Richardson-Moore said. “The foremost thing we offer is community to the marginalized. The bulk of our programming is ways to connect — worship services, Sunday school, Bible study, art room, Playback Cafe, four communal meals a week. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. This has pulled the rug out from under us and from what I consider our true mission. People feel isolated, cut off.”
Nonetheless, Triune has pivoted to meet the new needs. Its case managers are working with people who live in motels and have lost jobs due to the coronavirus. The public can help keep these people in place by making financial contributions to Triune, earmarked for COVID-19 relief. Triune’s social worker, case manager and rehab counselors are still helping people access benefits and other needs. Homeless neighbors can still collect their mail.
The church is staying in touch through livestreamed worship services, Richardson-Moore said, and community members are bringing “pop-top bags,” gallon-sized plastic bags filled with items like granola, peanut butter crackers, bottled water and canned goods that don’t require a can opener.
“Our partner churches have been troupers, pivoting on a dime from hot meals to sandwiches,” she said. “And the city has installed a hand-washing station in our parking lot.”