By Carla Bumstead


— As of last week, food banks in Charlotte and Eaton Rapids were not yet experiencing high levels of increased demand for food as a result of the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation. But the number of new families seeking food assistance was on the rise.

Phil Grimwood, who serves as executive director of the Helping Hands food bank in Charlotte, said they are continuing to serve about 500 households each month. But the number of new households reaching out for help has definitely increased.

“We’ve notice that, while some of our regular clients have not been in lately, the number of new people has increased by about four times the usual,” Grimwood said. “I think we are just now starting to see a real increase in new requests.”

Grimwood said he thinks there are a number of reasons why requests from regular clients are slightly lower than usual.

“There was an increase in food stamps when this all started, about a month ago,” he said. “And most people are simply holed-up right now and only come out when they have to.”

The situation in Eaton Rapids is similar, as the Heart and Hands Food Bank has seen a modest increase in food requests from new households.

“We are busier than normal, and new requests are up by maybe five or ten percent,” said director Cathy Howell. “I do think it is because of COVID-19, and our board does expect things to get busier as time goes on.”

Grimwood also expects to see increased demands.

“We distribute over 50,000 pounds of food every month and feel confident we will be able to meet the expected increase of requests when they do materialize,” Grimwood said.

Volunteers, donations

Both Heart and Hands and Helping Hands have seen a reduction in their volunteer workforce due to COVID-19. Grimwood said Helping Hands’ volunteer staff is down by about half.

“Most of them are seniors and some of them have health issues,” he said. “We are protecting them by not having them come in, but we are getting by.”

Howell said the same is happening in Eaton Rapids, with their number of volunteers also down for the same reasons.

But neither food bank is accepting new volunteers at this time.

“Because of the coronavirus, we are trying to keep a ‘closed loop’ in terms of staffing,” Grimwood explained.

Both Grimwood and Howell said they would encourage anyone interested in volunteering to get a hold of them once the current COVID-19 concerns have passed.

The two food banks are also not accepting direct donations of food at this time, for a number of reasons. As both are affiliated with the Greater Lansing Food Bank, they are getting their food from them.

“We know exactly where that food is coming from, and don’t have to worry about sanitizing etc.,” Grimwood explained. “We do greatly appreciate that people want to help us by donating food, but we simply had to suspend direct donations right now because of this unique situation.”

He also explained the food bank is able to buy at special pricing, so every dollar goes much farther. He stressed the best way for community members to contribute to the food pantry is by making a monetary donation.

The same is true for Heart and Hands.

“It is very humbling to see the number of people that have been donating to us financially,” Howell said. “It is very much appreciated.”

Distribution guidelines

New guidelines are in place for food banks across the nation to protect workers and clients. At Heart and Hands and Helping Hands no clients are being allowed in the building, and food is being brought out to the parking lots in carts. Clients load the food themselves, and carts are sanitized upon return.

“Clients can come up to the front window, and we then generate a food order,” Grimwood explained.

Howell said Heart and Hands is encouraging clients to call ahead to place their order whenever possible.

Helping Hands (shown in the above photo) is located at 621 Jefferson St. in Charlotte. They are open Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monetary donations can be mailed to the above address or dropped off in a secure mailbox on the pantry building. Donations can also be made via Pay Pal on the “Helping Hands Food Pantry” Facebook page or on the website at For more information, call the pantry at 517-543-8737 or send them a message on Facebook.

Heart and Hands is located at 9220 Kinneville Rd. in Eaton Rapids, at the rear of the First Baptist Church. They are open Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon. Monetary donations can be mailed to PO Box 217, Eaton Rapids MI 48827. More information can be found on their Facebook page at “Heart and Hands Food Pantry – Eaton Rapids.” For more information call the pantry at 517-663-7104.