COVID-19: Delaware Organizations Collaborate to Offer Services to Those In Need

Dozens of cars lined up outside Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle, Delaware on July 14 for the Food Bank of Delaware’s drive-thru food bank. Volunteers passed out boxes of food as well as opioid rescue kits containing Narcan and information on mental health resources. 

“Everybody is in need at least one time in their life and we’re here to support them,” said Lanir Williams, driver for The Food Bank of Delaware.

Over the past several months, The Food Bank of Delaware has teamed up with the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) to help Delawareans who face food insecurity, mental health crises, or want help with substance abuse issues.

Collaborating to provide a wider range of resources can help reduce the amount of overdose cases in a community and get people what they need to feel more secure and stable, said Alicia Emmanuel, deputy chief of addiction services and transitional services at DSAMH.

“Seeing us united is such an important thing during this time and the pandemic,” she said. 

Bethany Hall-Long, Delaware’s lieutenant governor, was on site for part of the morning, chatting with constituents and volunteers about the importance of directing resources to people who need it.

“It’s OK not to be OK, and we want people to come get help,” she said.  

The Food Bank has been open since 1981 and focuses on providing food to Delawareans in need. The nonprofit facilitates long-term solutions to hunger and poverty through community education and advocacy, according to its mission statement.

The goal of each recent food distribution event is to raise awareness in the community, not only about COVID-19 but to ensure people are provided with resources they need, according to Hall-Long.

“As a result of the pandemic, there are approximately 170,000 food insecure Delawareans,” according to Kim Turner, communications director at the Food Bank of Delaware.

With the pandemic causing business closures and people becoming unemployed, the demand for food assistance has doubled.

Last year there were 117,000 Delawareans who experienced food insecurity, 59,160 of whom live in New Castle County, according to the Food Bank of Delaware.

At the July 14 event, the food bank gave out roughly 8,000 pounds of food, according to Williams. Families of four received several boxes of food containing essential items such as milk, fruit, and other nonperishable items.

“When you’re able to provide something as basic as food to a community, then you’ve already cut into some of the problems affecting our families,” said Darryl Chambers, program director with the Community Intervention Team, a mentorship program based in Wilmington.

Chambers brought several students with him to volunteer and pass out food to families. 

“It’s always important for the community,” Chambers said. “If I didn’t have my job, didn’t have money coming in, and I was stuck with the reality of trying to feed my family. Honestly, I don’t know what extent I would go to to solve that problem.” 

As people approached the site, volunteers loaded boxes of food into their cars so no one had to interact face-to-face. At the other end of the parking lot, staff from the DSAMH were set up in a tent offering information about the department’s resources and offering free opioid rescue kits.

They also distributed naloxone, often referred to by the brand name of Narcan, and taught interested individuals the importance of the drug, how it can save someone’s life, and how to properly use it.

“Our goal is to have people become stable and back in the community, to get treatment to recover, and prevent an overdose,” said Gary Mason, community outreach coordinator at DSAMH. “So, we want to make sure people get what they need.”

DSAMH partners with the Food Bank of Delaware in areas where they see the highest number of overdoses, Emmanuel said.

“The Food Pantry is something very much needed during the COVID-19 pandemic with a lot of people being laid off,” Mason said. 

The stresses of poverty and substance abuse can fuel each other, he said. That said, DSAMH staff are committed to reaching as many people they can for as long as the pandemic lasts. 

“We’re not going anywhere,” Emmanuel said. “The people that still want to help are still here.”

Editor’s note: Our special reporting on COVID-19 may focus on communities outside Philadelphia because many of our student journalists are now temporarily located outside of the city. Instead, our reporters will cover how the coronavirus is impacting their own communities from across the country and around the world. We will return to hyperlocal coverage of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as soon as possible.

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