Stepping Stones Outreach Ministries, associated with Life-net Church at 142 Dellinger Road, has been providing food for members of the Urbana community for 10 years, but those efforts have gone into overdrive during the current coronavirus emergency.
Pastor Chris Livingston said they served 74 families on Monday, which was about 15-to-20 more than usual.
“We serve about 150 families per week, so we try to help 450-500 families a month, up to 1,400 to 1,500 people,” he said. “We see that the numbers haven’t decreased at all in the 10 years we’ve been here, but they’ve slightly increased, and then in this time we’re dealing with now it’s going to really increase.”
On Tuesday, Stepping Stones served just 29 families, with 24 more arriving for food on Wednesday, which Livingston attributed to Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order and people not knowing if they were supposed to go out. Because Stepping Stones is a food delivery service their volunteers are exempt from the order, and Livingston encouraged anyone facing food insecurity to take advantage of the opportunity.
“With everybody being laid off and everything closing down, we’ve signed up several new people this week just because they’re in a pinch right now, and they’re having to have some kind of food source or relief on their bills,” he said. “All you have to do is bring proof of address, a picture ID, and everybody in your household’s birthday. They get 3-to-4 days worth of food that we try to provide for them, and then they can come once a week when we’re open, and they can go to the Wherehouse on the other week, so they’re pretty well covered throughout the month.”
Stepping Stones serves families from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday, and has yet to determine if volunteers will need to work Friday hours based on any increased need. They are open every week, except for the third week of the month when nearby food pantry Wherehouse is serving families. Essential workers who may not be able to get to Stepping Stones during their early morning hours can make a special appointment by calling Livingston at 937-244-1251, or by e-mailing PastorChris4031@yahoo.com.
Volunteers are modifying their procedure during the coronavirus outbreak by allowing people to stay in their car and fill out a checklist of available items. The checklist allows people to select one item from categories such as condiments, beverages, meat, vegetables, breakfast and dry goods. Then, they can sort through a variety of breads and sweets that are set up on tables outside the church while they wait for their items to be pulled for them.
“What we’re doing now is they just stay in their cars,” Livingston said. “We hand them a grocery list instead of them going back and shopping, and then our volunteers will go fill that grocery list and we’ll actually bring it to the car and put it in their vehicle, in their trunk or wherever. They never leave their car and everybody stays at a safe distance.
“We try to make sure everyone gets a nutritious, balanced meal, and we try to set up our pantry where they get to pick the things they want to eat instead of just handing a box to them and saying here’s what you have to eat,” he added. “It’s already hard enough to come to a food pantry. We just try to make it simple and make it good for everybody to be able to choose.”
Stepping Stones obtains their food from Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign & Logan Counties, which distributes food to all county food banks. Livingston said that although they will deliver, he or one of his volunteers typically drives to Springfield to fill up a van with supplies at least once a month.
“We spend about $1,200-1,500 a month on food at 19 cents a pound,” he said. “So if you do the math, we’re sending thousands and thousands of pounds of food out of here per month. We have private donors as well, and we have a few churches that help in donating, and then we have other people that bring us hygiene, health and beauty aids, because we don’t usually get those from Second Harvest. So the toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, those kinds of things are delivered. We always accept monetary donations, especially in this time, because we’ve ramped the increase of the food up, for sure.”
Everyone working for Stepping Stones is a volunteer, including at this time Livingston himself, who isn’t getting paid while the church is closed to the public. There are at least five regular, full-time volunteers, but with the current shutdown of businesses and schools Livingston said he has seen additional people want to come down and help, and he could always use more.
“We’re here for people,” he said. “The reason we’re here is that our community is hurting just like everybody else, and we want to make sure that we just try to be a light to people in this world that seems to be dark right now. Even though times are tough, there’s people out there that care for them. We have volunteers that are kind of putting their own selves at risk by just trying to serve people, but that’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to try to provide the best we can and help our community. We all live in this community, so we’re all part of this family that we’re trying to serve and support.
“If this coronavirus thing moves into another month, we’ll be here,” he added. “No matter what happens, we’ll continue to feed the community and try to be here spiritually for anyone that needs it.”
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304