Michelle Stolz, who coordinates the Laura Ingalls Wilder food pantry, principal Amy Jo Naughton and her children, James and Emily, packed food for three families Friday, being careful to follow protocols to avoid the coronavirus.

While some folks are finding empty shelves in the grocery stores the last few days, some Indianola families find empty shelves in their homes all too regularly.

The coronavirus restrictions have multiplied that need, including for families who are homebound and won’t be able to get to the Laura Ingalls Wilder elementary food pantry when it opens Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“This will be the first time we’ll be open since social distancing has been put into place and things have started shutting down,” said principal Amy Jo Naughton. When she reached out to families to let them know the pantry would open, she soon learned that at least one family from her school wouldn’t be there.

“Through our correspondence I realized they were in desperate need and homebound,” she said. “So we made the decision we would deliver to her and her family this afternoon.”

But as she and food pantry coordinator Michelle Stolz started planning for the delivery, they realized other families might face the same obstacles.

“I decided I would call those families that are on our list for food recovery, food pantry and backpacks for hunger to check in to see how they’re doing, if they need anything,” she said. “Through those calls, we found two other families that were in need as well.”

So Naughton lined up two of her children, James, a junior at Indianola High School, and Emily, a sophomore. The family worked with Stolz to pack what the families needed, and the Naugtons dropped the loaded boxes of food at the families’ homes.

“We just knock, drop off and make sure they get the food, but no interaction,” said Naughton.

The food came from the school’s food pantry, which usually opens once a month, but will be open for a second time in March Monday night. Food available ranges from frozen meat, cereal, canned fruits and vegetables and a variety of pastas. The food mostly comes from the Food Bank of Iowa, although students also donate food.

Stolz organizes the pantry and orders the food. “My Fareway expertise really helps me out there,” she said. She started working at Fareway while in high school in Harlan and continued while attending Simpson College. Now a fifth-grader teacher at Wilder, she still gets occasional phone calls for help, even putting in some hours over spring break as customers flooded the store.

Procedures at the Wilder food pantry on Monday will be different, said Naughton.

“We used to allow people to come in and shop,” said Naughton. “Now we’re packing things and taking it out to them.”

The new processes came after working with Sue Wilson at Warren County Helping Hand to ensure the safe distribution of the food. Volunteers who help in the food pantry will have their temperatures taken before they can enter. Families from around Warren County can use the pantry. Naughton also has a list from Helping Hand to guide how much food to provide each family.

While the food pantry usually opens one Tuesday a month, Naughton said Monday’s special opening might not be the last extra day added. “We’re just playing it day by day, week by week,” she said. “If we see a need, we’ll open back up again.”

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