Marny Skindrud had only been on the job at the Lawton Food Bank for three months when word of the coronavirus gained traction in the United States. Even back in January and February it still seemed like the virus was a distant problem, far away from Southwest Oklahoma.
When March rolled in, everything changed for the food bank and its new executive director. Skindrud had to make decisions to protect her staff and the people who depend on food bank’s services as the battle against COVID-19 ramped up.
“It’s affected us in a few ways,” Skindrud said. “We have our normally in-client choice pantry, which means that families can come in and shop for items, similar to a grocery store, where they would pick out the food items that their family wants to eat.
“Now, as we’re going through safety measures, we have moved to a drive-through service only at the back of our building. And we are prepackaging boxes in addition to the prepackaged boxes that are nonperishable food items.”
When people call the Lawton Food Bank, they are greeted with new instructions on how the new system works. If any of the procedures are not followed, the cars will be sent away without getting their packages.
This has not been easy on the staff. Skindrud recalled one day when the weather wasn’t being cooperative, but the cars kept coming.
“One of my personal wish list items is a carport or garage type structure at the back of our building that provides some shelter from the elements,” she said. “One day I did four hours of loading cars in the pouring rain.”
Skindrud said this will be the format for the foreseeable future.
“I’m honestly not sure how long we will do it,” she said. “The city is loosening up some restrictions, but we…aren’t quite comfortable opening back up until we see cases at a standstill or declining.
“I definitely want to make sure we’re really in the clear,” she said. “Even at the beginning of this, we were limiting people in the building, but then myself, my staff, and my volunteers, we were all in contact with every single person who walked through the doors. So, we’re still going to err on the side of an abundance of caution.”
The Lawton Food Bank was founded in 1985 to feed and care for hungry citizens. Since then, it has grown into a vital part of the state’s ability to help those in need.
“The food bank is here to serve residents of southwest Oklahoma. As long as they have an Oklahoma address, we are able to help them,” Skindrud said.
“Our population that we serve ranges from seniors to people with disabilities that are living on a fixed income. Hardworking families that are struggling to make ends meet and children who are living with food insecurity.”
Skindrud estimates that close to one-third of LFB clients are families with children. The other two-thirds are adults and seniors citizens.
The LFB is partnered with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, which is located in Oklahoma City. That partnership has enabled them to order USDA and other donated food items to distribute to area families in need.
Having to change the food delivery format is only one of the side effects that comes along with the pandemic. It also has cost the food bank several valued workers.
“Many of my volunteers are older, retired individuals. They have decided to stay home for their safety, which I fully support,” Skindrud said. “Thankfully, we’ve had other people able to step up and fill in. And then we’re seeing a lot of generosity from the community as far as donations, as they are able to help us. So that’s been wonderful too.”
One area the food bank hasn’t been able to replace is the food drives. Local food drives have played a big part in keeping the stockrooms filled in the past.
“We’ve been seeing changes as far as a lot of food drives that we had scheduled,” Skindrud said. “They had to be canceled because the businesses or entities…were no longer running or didn’t have clientele… to support a food drive.”
Yet, the Lawton Food Bank is not in danger of running out of food any time soon. Those who make use of their service leave with a carload of food every time they pull in.
“We were expecting a big bump, but honestly, we haven’t seen that,” Skindrud said. “We are seeing a rise in our new clients. But as for the big surge, we haven’t seen that like we’ve been expecting.
“Other food banks close to us in the state that have been seeing those big surges. So, I know that the community as a whole is doing a great job on a lot of different feeding programs. I would like to think that that’s helping as well.”
Like with most businesses and organizations, Skindrud doesn’t know what the future holds. Even as the economy slowly starts to reopen, hundreds of people have lost their jobs and the true impact may not hit the area until later in the year.
“Even at Christmas time we were saying that we’re going to need food drives in the summertime as kids are out of school. And now they’ve been out of school a lot longer than we expected,” Skindrud said. “We would love to see some food drives as people are able to open back up again.”