BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — The pandemic is making life very hard for those in need. It is also making it very challenging for organizations that try to help because of COVID-19 indoor restrictions.
7 Eyewitness News checked with three local groups in Buffalo to see how they are making sure people still get the holiday food they need despite Erie County's coronavirus surge.
People have not been allowed inside St. Luke's Mission of Mercy to eat since March 2020 due to COVID health concerns.
Volunteers haul food out through basement openings so it can be placed on outdoor tables. The food is then distributed to people who must stand on social distance markers in the parking lot.
For the holiday, the mission is handing out Thanksgiving box meals only to people who made reservations. Those are scheduled for pickup at different times to keep people spaced out.
The Martha P. Mitchell Community Center would normally seat 2,000 for a free Thanksgiving meal.
This year, volunteers are still preparing just as many meals, but the food is handed to people outside the building as only volunteers are allowed inside.
"We are here to help and at least put a smile on somebody's face to say 'Look, we are here and we care,'" said Pastor Al Wilson, the executive director of the center.
In addition to more donations of food, Pastor Al Wilson said the center needs toys for its Christmas giveaway as many businesses are unable to collect toys due to either being shut down or having employees working remotely.
The Response to Love Center has been helping feed the poor in Buffalo's East Side neighborhoods for 36 years. It would normally allow people into its building to collect items from the food pantry and sit in a 100-person dining room for a Thanksgiving meal.
This year, only about a dozen essential workers are allowed into the center. For long-time director, Sister Mary Johnice CSSF, the pandemic is not going to stop her from handing out hot meals on Thanksgiving.
The center just installed an outdoor awning with side panels ($10,000 cost) so it can distribute meals on Thanksgiving regardless of "cold, wind, or snow," explained Sister Johnice.
The Response to Love Center is also investing $300,000 to create a new food pantry and dining room that will seat 200 people. Both the dining room and food pantry have to be COVID compliant and include provisions for social distancing and preventing the spread of germs.
It is hoped the new rooms will be ready by the end of the year so the Response to Love Center can serve individuals and families indoors during the cold winter months.
For the Catholic nun, it meant taking on a redeveloper's role as she worked with the Erie County Health Department and City of Buffalo to get the proper approvals - so people could again enter the 100-year-old building for food and meals.
Sister Johnice is hoping donations will pay for the upgrades, but her philosophy is to feed the people first and worry about the money later.
"This is the mission. We can do it but in a different way," said Sister Johnice