Harnett Food Pantry offering curbside pickup

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Carolyn Cox had no intention of shuttering the Harnett Food Pantry.

With need for food assistance on the rise over the past year, Cox knew she had to figure out a way to keep her pantry going amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

Cox figured out that the best to way to keep her doors open to the public was actually to close them. Harnett Food Pantry no longer will be open to the public but those in need of food still can receive assistance. Cox decided to start offering a sort of curbside service for people to both limit social exposure and provide much-needed supplies to those impacted by the multitude of cancellations and closures across the county.

“The last thing I want to do is prevent people from accessing food,” Cox, the executive director of Harnett Food Pantry, said. “We are going to continue doing what we’ve been doing during the same hours, just like we always have. Instead of our shopping format, we’re suspending that and are going to give away pre-packed boxes of food in the parking lot.”

Cox asked everyone planning to visit the pantry to abide by the new guidelines. People need to stay in their vehicle and wait for someone to assist them. Cox said she expects everything to run smoothly.

“We’ll meet you at the door,” said Cox. “We’ll sign you up and give you your box and you can be on your way. That should meet the criteria for no gathering. We’re going to be outdoors and we’re asking people to stay in their cars and let us serve them in their cars.

Even before COVID-19 took a sledgehammer to the economy, Cox noticed a gradual increase in the need for food assistance over the past year. Harnett Food Pantry distributes food assistance to 760 families per month, serving as many as 2,500 people, compared to two years ago when the pantry served around 500 families a month.

Should the economic lockdown from the virus continue into spring and summer, experts estimate the number of unemployed people nationwide could spike like a fever. Harnett Food Pantry relies solely on donations and Cox said she hopes donations pick up before the unemployment numbers do.

“I can’t see how we can expect anything but that,” Cox said. “I certainly expect that to increase. We’re a private organization that survives off donations. Donations are a little bit low. We just put in an order for a lot of food this morning. We always need money to buy more food. We need perishable items like canned foods or cash.”

Cox expressed concerns that some food pantries are shuttering due to a lack of volunteers. Many organizations like food banks rely on volunteers, who often are retired and at the most risk of severe symptoms from the coronavirus.

“Some places are closing because they’re volunteers, and like us, many of the volunteers are older people with compromised immune systems,” said Cox. “They’re afraid and I don’t blame them. I hesitated to call my volunteers because they’re so loyal. I can’t do it and I don’t want anyone to feel pressured. People need to make their own decisions.”

Harnett Food Pantry, located at 413 W. Old Road in Lillington, offers its services on Monday from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For more information, contact Cox at 591-9963 or cscox54@aol.com.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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