Increased demand, decreased support: A look at the Whole Life Center food pantry’s work and response to COVID-19

Student volunteers assist with the distribution of food at the Whole Life Center food pantry. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Ameruoso ’22)

It has been a tough year for local businesses. But what about businesses whose sole purpose is to serve others? The nearby Whole Life Center food pantry, which is supported by many Lafayette students each semester, has been working overtime to help the Easton community through the pandemic. And they could use more help.

Founded in 2011, this non-profit organization, formerly known as The Fathers House food pantry, began distributing food baskets during Thanksgiving and Christmas from their base at The Fathers House Christian Fellowship. Since then, it has disconnected from the original church and evolved in response to increasing demand into what is now The Whole Life Center Food Pantry.

Donna Lavin, executive director of The Whole Life center, explained that they receive the majority of their food from Sam’s Club, as they are a part of the Feed America network. When the food isn’t used for their pantry, Whole Life has approximately fifteen other organizations to give the food to, she said.

Food distributions to Easton residents and organizations run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every second and fourth Wednesday of each month, while Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays the organization requires help unloading new deliveries and with inventory work. The pantry is managed primarily by volunteers from the Easton area, a large fraction of whom are Lafayette students.

Lauren Ameruoso’22, Whole Life volunteer coordinator for the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) service fraternity and a long-time volunteer herself, explained that there is no direct contact between the residents and the pantry volunteers. Rather, volunteers take responsibility for orders sent in by specific families, collect the requested food and deliver it to them.

However, with the pandemic and imposition of COVID-19 regulations, the food pantry has had to face additional challenges. With more people facing financial difficulties and relying on food banks, the demand at the pantry has increased, while at the same time, volunteer availability has dropped.

“At the peak of when Lafayette was helping us, we had a good forty to fifty volunteers that rotated off and on…[Now] we’ve got a few that are coming, but we could use some more volunteers, because you never know who is able to make it. We have another agency that we deal with, but sometimes they only come once, and it’s not on a consistent basis,” said Lavin.

Gina Beviglia ’22, Whole Life volunteer coordinator for Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, explained that the close involvement of APO and AGD has offered strong support to the pantry in terms of volunteers. However, since APO and the Landis Center have transitioned to virtual service, AGD is the primary source of student volunteers for the pantry at the moment.

“They are very appreciative, and over break when I was texting [Lavin]…we were talking about COVID regulations and which phase we would be able to volunteer in, she was saying how we’ve been lost without the students…especially because a lot of the people who work at the food pantry are older and so might not be able to do the physical tasks,” Beviglia added.

Ameruoso emphasized the value of service to her and its impact on her peers in APO. Even when away from campus last fall, APO supported the pantry through a fundraiser. The money raised was used for a new freezer for the pantry, according to Ameruoso.

“In the middle of the pandemic, [APO] put together a fundraiser…and raised $1,400. It was awesome…It was such a blessing to us. I can’t thank Lafayette students enough for everything they do,” Lavin said.

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