SALT LAKE CITY — It has been all hands on deck for weeks now at Catholic Community Services, where employees from every department have rolled up their sleeves, washed their hands and donned plastic gloves to make mounds of sandwiches daily. Those mounds translate to up to 2,000 each day for the clients at the St Vincent de Paul Dining Room, the Salt Lake Rescue Mission and three homeless resource centers in the Salt Lake area.
Clients at the centers had been receiving two hot meals a day, but with the health practices initiated by the state in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s going to be sandwiches for a while. And those sandwiches are being turned out by fewer people than normal.
“We’ve let our volunteers know for their safety we are not utilizing their contributions at this time. We don’t feel it’s the most prudent thing to do,” said Cynthia Mecklenburg, CCS director of public relations and human resources.
“We are carrying on and we’re committed to continuing to provide support and services to our clients,” she added. “Our main concern is to preserve the safety and wellbeing of our clients and our staff.”
Currently about 25 percent of CCS’s staff is working from home. “Everybody would prefer to be here,” Mecklenburg said. “We have amazing, committed staff that work at CCS because they love the work we do and the clients we serve.”
So far, the demand for meals at the resource centers has not increased significantly, Mecklenburg said. However, the Good Samaritan Program has seen an increase of about 25 percent in people seeking food there, said Darren Williams, the program director.
CCS benefitted from the generosity of local businesses such as Chick-fil-A, which provided lunches to clients all last week at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall, the Rescue Mission and three resource centers, Mecklenburg said.
While the Weigand Homeless Resource Center has shut down some programs because of the pandemic, it is continuing to provide basic services. Utah Community Action is still working out of the Weigand Center.
CCS also staffs programs at the Gail Miller Resource Center. They are staggering meals and limiting the dining room to smaller groups so that proper social distancing can be observed. In the sleeping quarters, clients are being asked to limit personal exposure as well.
Along with the center employing stringent sanitary practices, Mecklenburg said there are plans to have the health department teach safety practices to staff so they can further educate the clients.
At CCS of Northern Utah in Ogden, the staff is also stretched thin. Normally the center has 15 to 20 volunteers daily, but the building has been closed to volunteers and clients, so a staff of six employees (an additional five are working from home) prepare boxes of food that clients drive through to pick up.
Already, resources are severely diminished at the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank, said Maresha Bosgieter, director of CCS of Northern Utah. Food donations from the community have dried up, as have perishable donations from the grocery stores, which are being depleted by shoppers. Because of this, CCS is purchasing meat, eggs and milk, and will shortly need to buy staples like canned tomatoes, beans and meat, peanut butter and cereal, much of which used to be donated, she said.
“We are seeing a large increase in the number of families needing help right now because of people losing jobs, getting their hours cut back and having kids home they need to feed, with school being out,” Bosgieter said. “Last week alone, 45 percent of the families we helped did not have a food card and were new to our services. With the lasting effects on the economy, I see this situation continuing on for some time.”
With postponement of the Scouting for Food drive that normally takes place in March and the Mail Carrier Food Drive in May, the demand at the food bank may soon be overwhelming, Bosgieter said. However, to minimize the risk of exposure and because of the smaller staff, they cannot take individual donations, although “if people want to organize neighborhood/work drives and do one coordinated drop-off, we could arrange that,” she said.
Despite the new measures, CCS is continuing its Bridging the Gap program at local schools, Bosgieter said. The program provides weekend groceries for children in need.
With the overwhelming need brought about by this crisis, CCS is launching a donation campaign. At the Gail Miller Resource Center, the greatest need is for men and women’s underwear, men’s pants, hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, face masks, disinfecting/bleach wipes and bath towels. The St. Vincent de Paul dining hall and the Weigand Homeless Resource Center are asking for snack packs of granola bars or fruit snacks and individual bags of chips.
Donations can be delivered on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or shipped to Saint Vincent de Paul, 437 West 200 South, SLC, UT 84101; or Gail Miller Resource Center, 242 Paramount Ave. SLC, UT 84115.
Monetary donations may be made online at https://www.ccsutah.org/donate or https://www.ccsnorthernutah.org/donate.