By Bill Hudson

EAST BETHEL, Minn. (WCCO) — Each month, the North Anoka County Emergency food shelf (NACE) tosses a lifeline for hungry families.

Serving up bags and boxes full of bread and fresh vegetables, dry goods and dairy.

“Normally in a month we exceed 1,200 clients,” explained NACE executive director, Steve Jaffee.

But surprisingly, Jaffee is seeing a sharp drop in demand over the past couple of weeks. He attributes the drop to ongoing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Understandably, citizens are afraid to leave their homes out of fear of contracting the virus. Jaffee believes the temporary dip in emergency food demand is like an eerie calm before the storm.

“That’s exactly what we call it. We just think people are scared and are going to run out of resources,” Jaffee said.

Just to be safe, NACE clients are no longer coming into the pantry. Instead, volunteers and staff are bringing the bags of food to client’s cars.

Doors remain locked and along with the grocery carts, everything is wiped down with antiseptic towels after each transaction.

“It’s really challenging for organizations like us,” Jaffee said.

But many of the volunteers are themselves seniors and retirees. Because the coronavirus is disproportionately preying on the elderly, they are heeding warnings to stay home.

That is putting a pinch on available workers, like Barb Martin.

“The process has completely changed around here to protect us and the clients, there’s also the volunteers,” Martin said.

More folks like Barb will be needed as food demand spikes. It is expected to rise sharply in the coming days and weeks along with the number of people going on unemployment.

To the clients, Martin said, “you can come and stay in your cars, because someone will come out and you can get your food.”

Here, where there is plenty of food on the shelves, but with fewer staff to serve it up. Still, everyone is doing their best to keep hungry families fed.

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