As COVID-19 swept into the Ozarks earlier this month, it brought with it a swarm of fears ranging from economic uncertainty to contracting the virus.

But there’s one thing Bart Brown, director of Ozarks Food Harvest, said no one needs to fear: hunger.

“Anyone — anyone — who’s lost their job to COVID-19 and doesn’t have an income will qualify for food assistance,” Brown said. “If I’m a restaurant worker and I got laid off this week, my present income is zero and that qualifies me income-wise for federal assistance.”

This means any laid-off worker regardless of previous income can go to a food pantry and get USDA commodity items including fresh meat and vegetables, cheese or anything that’s in stock.

Brown said 20,000 workers in the service industry alone have already been laid off, and he expects demand to increase.

Over the next 90 days, Brown said the 85 food pantries in the 28-county area OFH serves will likely need to provide an additional 1 million meals.

It’s a big ask, but OFH and pantries such as Crosslines are mobilizing to meet the demand.

Tom Faulkner, director of Crosslines, said meeting the challenge means leaning harder on technological solutions, modifying its distribution methods and leasing additional storage space at Springfield Underground.

“We’ve now developed an online menu so families served by Crosslines can actually order their food like Walmart or other grocery stores that offer that,” Faulkner said.

Rather than families picking up food inside, they’re going through a drive-thru for pick-up. Additional phone lines were installed to help keep up with demand, and Faulkner said Crosslines will begin testing home delivery for those who are 60 and older next week. He said he hopes to offer delivery to all families the following week.

“With the number of families we serve, this is a huge undertaking,” he said in an email follow-up to a phone interview. “Some great community partners are helping to make the opportunity to test this possibility.”

OFH is prepared to help smaller pantries that don’t have the flexibility of their larger counterparts to continue to deliver food wherever it’s needed.

“We are getting ready to provide mobile food pantries across our service area as needed to provide food,” Brown said. “We’ll be doing one next week at an agency that just doesn’t have the room to provide the physical space, so we’re going to set one up in the parking lot.”

Crosslines and OFH are prepared to handle the sudden spike in need, but they are asking for community assistance in the form of online donations. Crosslines also has been asked to help the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri secure pet food for the animals housed at the shelter.

Brown hopes to raise $250,000 locally to help meet the need.

“For every dollar that’s donated, we can provide a little over four meals. So if we can raise $250,000 in the next 90 days, we can provide that million meals,” Brown said.

Faulkner said he also would welcome donations from area restaurants that may have a surplus right now.


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