ACTION Ministries makes changes to Saturday food pantry to ensure safety

Published 8:57 am Thursday, March 19, 2020

DOWAGIAC — On any given Saturday, ACTION Ministries’ food pantry provides about 50 food donations to families.

This week, as schools, restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues were closed, ACTION Ministries board members met to discuss how the nonprofit would continue to serve families and individuals safely in the coming weeks.

ACTION Ministries runs a fixed food pantry from 10 a.m. to noon every Saturday, at the nonprofit’s ministries center, 301 Main St., Dowagiac. In the coming weeks, visitors will have their routine visit changed slightly.

In an effort to limit crowds of people inside the building, board members plan to release an online pre-registration form, which would allow for more boxes to be prepackaged by volunteers and then to be picked up between 11 a.m. and noon. Walk-ins will still be welcome at the pantry, but people will be asked to wait in their vehicles until the box is ready.

Handling the online pre-registration task is Jacob Peters, 22, of Dowagiac. The Western Michigan University student studying environmental sciences has been using his spare time in between online classes to help ease the ACTION’s transition.

“He has been involved with ACTION his whole life,” said his mother and board member, Becky Peters.

Jacob is no stranger to helping out at ACTION as he created the current computer software used at every Saturday’s pantry. ACTION Ministries volunteers sign into the program and keep track of who visits the pantry, how many visits they have made in a month, and what kind of food people are requesting.

“It took lots of hours and several months to get it to where we can use it,” Becky said of her son’s time put into creating the program. “He worked on it since last May, and then we have had it pretty regular. We’ve tweaked it probably a dozen times to make it fit better to what we need it for.”

Without having to drive back and forth to campus, Becky said Jacob’s time had been spent thinking of the logistics to keep people safe.

“For him to add a side bonus of another level of information is really awesome,” Becky said.

Another change made to Saturday’s visits could include limiting the number of people inside the building. Currently, the White House is advising people to limit gatherings of groups of 10 people or more. The board discussed allowing visitors to wait in their cars while volunteers packed their boxes and then delivered them curbside.

“We want to keep people safe,” said ACTION Ministries President Karen Benedix. “We did a lot of precautionary measures last Saturday, and it worked very well. We will continue that practice this week with the addition of an online function.”

Throughout the year, ACTION also offers emergency boxes.

“We never know when we are going to get a request,” Benedix said. “If the Dowagiac Police Department calls and says, ‘We have a family that’s starving,’ we are going to, of course, fill a box.”

Clients interested in requesting a box online can do so at a link shared on Action Ministries Facebook page.

Later in the meeting, the ACTION Ministries board also approved a $500 cash donation to Saint Francis Outreach’s backpack program, which supplies students in need at Dowagiac Union’s four elementary schools and Dowagiac Middle School with weekend meals.