When Neighbors Nourishing Neighbors (formerly known as Bethlehem Place) opened its new location earlier this month, it wasn’t expecting to do so in the middle of a national emergency, Executive Director Betsy Winters said.
Ever since opening, the food bank in Prosper and others across the state and country have been tasked with pushing out valuable resources to vulnerable communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to Prosper’s growth, the food pantry had already moved into its new location, at 241 S. McKinley St., to anticipate increased customers based on the town’s growing population.
Now, the food pantry also has to account for those who may have trouble accessing food or who are not able to access food staples in overcrowded and sparsely stocked grocery stores that have resulted due to news of the pandemic’s spread and people being urged to self-quarantine.
“I started to worry that if the grocery stores were going to be this bad, there’s going to be that much demand for our pantry as well,” Winters said.
In addition to its mission of serving residents, the pantry was also providing lunches for students in conjunction with area churches and other nonprofits on March 16 and 17 before Prosper Independent School District started directly providing the service March 18.
Neighbors Nourishing Neighbors’ new location change and increased storage space couldn’t have come at a more crucial time, Winters said.
“Now we have a facility that is easy to access, that maintains anonymity, (that) maintains client dignity,” she said.
While the facility was originally planning to have an open house, those plans have given way to meeting the immediate demands being placed on the pantry.
“We really planned on having an open house, introducing the new pantry that we feel is our community’s food pantry to the community and our new location at a later time,” Winters said, “but with this (pandemic) having come, there are dozens of organizations and businesses that have reached out to ask if they could help us.”
The name change also reflects how much community support vital in maintaining the organization, Winters said.
“One of the biggest reasons we changed our name from Bethlehem Place to Neighbors Nourishing Neighbors is because the community literally is nourishing their neighbors,” she said. “Of all food pantries, (we) don’t know of a food pantry that gets as much food percentage-wise from their community members as we do.”
The organization will adapt and continue to carry out its mission, said Christi Kimme, chairman of the Neighbors Nourishing Neighbors board.
“If the numbers increase, we will need more volunteers to help us with giving out food. Right now we would like to help our families as much as we can, we don’t want things to feel panicky,” she said. “We will do everything we can working with all of these organizations to continue to pass out as much food to everyone that’s in need.”
Providing a sense of calm amid panic is the primary job of a food pantry, Kimme said.
Winters agreed. “Somebody’s got to be calm amidst the storm, right?” she said. “Part of being emergency prepared is expecting emergencies to come up and if you’re prepared, then the panic doesn’t set in.”