Harvesters continues mission despite coronavirus pandemic

Posted at 9:12 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 00:02:20-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On any “normal” day, the Harvesters warehouse would be filled with more than 100 volunteers, hustling to distribute food to pantries and community kitchens across 26 counties.

Now, due to social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, there won’t be more than a few people working at a time. But that’s not changing their mission one bit.

Between community members and local legislators calling to ask how to help, Harvesters will work to ensure that no student and no families, including those who aren’t working now, will go without food.

“I think that is the most inspiring thing, that the community really does want to know how to help,” said Joanna Sebelien, chief resource officer at Harvesters.

And every day people are stepping up to fill the food gap.

Community Services League partnered with Independence Schools and Revive Church to deliver more than 200 food boxes to families without transportation.

Lawrence Public Schools served 450 Brown Bag Meals in one day at its daily drive thru.

Then delivered even more the next day.

Most of Harvesters food used to come in through food drives or individual groups.

“Since people who would normally donate from food that they purchased in the grocery store and they are trying to have food for their own families, we’re going to have to purchase more and we’re going to have to bring it in by the pallet load, by the truckload,” Sebelien said.

There are usually 272 mobile pantries across the 26 counties Harvesters serves each month.

At First Baptist Ministry in Stilwell, Kansas, when the Harvesters truck pulls in, volunteers sort through hundreds of pounds of food that is then handed off to those in need without folks ever having to leave their vehicles.

Pastor Franklin Ruff, of First Baptist Stilwell, said that a lot of people are “one paycheck away” from issues.

“We believe that because of that we have had more people now that have shown a need,” Ruff said. “Luckily though, it seems like, as I mentioned around here, we’ve also had an uptick in what has been delivered to us so we are able to sustain that.”

Thanks to a $1 million donation from wealth management firm Creative Planning, Harvesters is able to beef up their buying power in the short term. Sebelien said that money will help allow Harvesters to provide meals during the “anticipated increase in need” and to distribute food through mobile pantries.

Harvesters feeds more than 141,000 people each month. Missouri students still are out of school, and students across Kansas will not physically return to class for the rest of the academic year.

“The community is prepared to help,” Sebelien said. “They are thinking about you.”

Anyone in need of food, or anyone who knows of someone who might be in need, can visit Harvesters’ website for more information.