Meet some of the heroes serving our neighbors throughout the pandemic

Miss Lola wearing a mask outside of a food pantry
March 9, 2021
by Paul Morello

Nearly one year ago, the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming clear. States shut down. Businesses closed. We worried about the safety of our friends, family, and loved ones.

Since then, millions of people have faced hunger for the first time. 

And yet, through unimaginable hardship, there was hope. For the past year, heroes at food banks and food programs across the country put their own health on the line to serve their community. Because of their amazing work and dedication, our neighbors facing hunger during the pandemic have had food, dignity and hope when it is needed most. 

We appreciate them. We salute them. We can’t fight hunger without them. And we want you to meet some of them.

Meet Ms. Lola Hardy, partner of Alameda County Community Food Bank

Since 1999, Ms. Lola (pictured above) has been the director of the Grace Baptist Church’s food pantry in Oakland California. This year, she celebrated her 82nd birthday, but she’s not slowing down. In fact, in the face of the COVID pandemic, she’s been working harder than ever.

“I’ve had two knee replacements and I have a bad back. I’m pretty much in pain all the time. But I look around me, and there are so many people in so much worse condition. This is what I take pride in – that I’m blessed to be able to do this,” she said.

And her community needs her now more than ever.

“We’ve definitely had an increase in people coming since the pandemic,” she said. “We see a lot of people coming asking for a bag of food, and we give it to them.”

Now, her pantry is serving more than 200 households every Wednesday – including some new faces who’ve started visiting the pantry since the pandemic started.

“It’s such a beautiful feeling when you can help people,” she said. “When I can reach out and help a person, that keeps me going.”

Ben at a mobile food pantry in Somerset County
Ben Tawney and his team use mobile food distributions to get groceries to people who may not be able to make it to pantries.

Meet Ben Tawney, partner of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

In Somerset County, Pennsylvania, Ben Tawney and his team at the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank know that not everyone who needed food during the pandemic – and before – had the means to drive to a food pantry or grocery store.

Working with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Ben’s team has been ensuring rural communities have food during the COVID pandemic through mobile food distributions that help fill in in spots where pantries aren’t as easily accessible.

“We saw an increase (in people served) right at the beginning of the pandemic, like a lot of folks did. We were serving around 1,100 families and then we saw that go up to probably 1,350 at our weekly distribution, and we just finished serving 1,500,” he said after a recent food distribution.

The pandemic hasn’t slowed the mobile distributions down, and that’s been a big help in the community, he said.

“We’ve gotten lots of thanks. People are grateful that we’re out in the middle of this.”

Tammy volunteering outside of Northern Illinois Food Bank
Tammy has been volunteering at the Northern Illinois Food Bank during the pandemic.

 

Meet Tammy, a volunteer at Northern Illinois Food Bank

When Tammy finished nursing school in 2020, she knew the year would bring many new and exciting changes: taking the state licensing exam to become a registered nurse, transitioning into the health care industry after two-plus decades working in finance, and more.   

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and all of Tammy’s plans came to a halt. 

But, the disruption didn’t stop Tammy from doing what she’s always wanted to do – help people. Now, she’s volunteering every week at Northern Illinois Food Bank, while also looking for a job as a newly-certified registered nurse. 

At the food bank, she helps distribute groceries twice a week through a food pantry program which allows people to order their food online and pick it up near their home.

“The pandemic is affecting so many people in so many different ways,” she says. “So many people – their jobs have been furloughed, they’re laid off, or they work hourly and their hours are reduced. They need help with groceries even more because they have less income now. There’s such a need out there.” 

And that’s why Tammy keeps volunteering.

“We’ve had people tell us, ‘I wouldn’t have been able to make dinner tonight without these groceries,’” Tammy said. “And it just makes you want to help more.” 

Want to thank these heroes?

Every day across the country, many more heroes just like Tammy, Ms. Lola and Ben are making sure people facing hunger have the food they need during the pandemic. Want to show your gratitude for these amazing individuals? Here’s how:

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