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Ruby’s Pantry altering way to continue service

In an effort to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruby’s Pantry in Austin is changing the way they distribute the food items

In order to make the service safe for both volunteers and guests, Ruby’s Pantry is going to use a drive-thru to get the items to those looking to purchase food. The next distribution will be at 5 p.m. Thursday night at the Mower County Fairgrounds. Guests should enter the fairgrounds at the south entrance off of Eighth Avenue Southwest.

At the beginning of this crisis, Ruby’s Pantry was forced to cancel their March distribution when state and local officials began recommending people should assemble in lower and lower numbers.

Volunteers hand out food Thursday night as the line begins to form during the first night of Ruby’s Pantry at Grace Lutheran Church in September of last year. Herald file photo

At the same time, organizers began looking at the idea of a drive-thru, but simply ran out of time the closer they got to distribution.

“We were actually trying to work up a plan for a drive-thru for March distribution when this whole thing blew up,” said Ruby’s Pantry media contact Bob Rozel. “But we only had a little bit over a week to sort it out. We just felt we were forced to cancel distribution.”

It’s the idea of organizers that if it’s required, the drive-thru format will be extended past Thursday’s distribution.

“If it goes through smoothly enough — and we expect to have some glitches, minor stuff — we’ll sit down after this is over and discuss if this is possible over the near future,” Rosel said. “Continue drive through until the ‘all clear’ has been sounded.”

However, part of what will determine whether or not the drive-thru format continues will be availability of locations to hold it. As the year proceeds and the fairgrounds begins hosting other events, it could determine how long the format is used.

Since its start in September of last year, though, the pantry has experienced steady and strong use.

“We’ve had an average of 225, 250 guests at every one of these distributions up to the one in March,” Rosel said. “The first couple were bigger than that, but that was because of the novelty of it.”

Guests will be asked to stay in their vehicle for the distribution unless asked to get out by a Ruby’s volunteer. It is requested that there be no more than two people in any vehicle and participants should clear a space in the trunk or hatchback area of their vehicle so volunteers can easily load their bundle quickly and safely.

International Paper has donated boxes for this distribution, so guests should not bring their baskets with them.

To minimize the handling of money, volunteers will have guests put their $20 cash donation in a container when they enter the fairgrounds. Exact amount is requested as there will be no option to make change. Each vehicle will be allowed one bundle for every trip through the drive-thru. Guests may make as many trips through as they want until the food runs out, but they will be allowed only one bundle per vehicle per trip. There will be no exceptions, except for those few who prepaid for more than one bundle before last month’s distribution was cancelled.

Ruby’s Pantry officials hope that this will be the safest and quickest way to get items distributed.

Organizers would like to thank International Paper for the boxes and Thompson Sanitation, who has donated bins and garbage cans so volunteers may recycle cardboard and keep the fairgrounds clean. They also thank the Mower County Fair Board for allowing Ruby’s Pantry to use the fairgrounds.

There is always a need for volunteers. During this crisis, some of those who are elderly or have medical conditions have chosen not to participate until the pandemic passes, so Ruby’s Pantry is in need of more volunteers. If you have questions or would like to volunteer, call Grace Lutheran Church at 433-3445.