Dozens of families who never needed food assistance before funneled through the drive-thru food pantry at Haywood Christian Ministry Monday.

With lay-offs and job losses mounting by the day due to coronavirus shut-downs, it’s hard to say how long charities like Haywood Christian Ministry will be able to keep up with demand, however.

Their source of revenue has been cut-off, and charitable giving will likely contract as those who once gave generously become victims of the economic fall-out themselves.

“In times of disaster, this community steps up,” said Steve Nowakowski, executive director of the organization. “But with our thrift store being closed, and churches being closed, we have no income. So it does get scary.”

A pop-up tent kept a light drizzle at bay as Nowakowski jotted down names of people driving up to get bags of food — which were handed through their car windows by gloved staff.

“We’ve had 44 new clients just today,” he said, flipping through the pages of his clipboard. “That’s a lot of new clients.”

It’d only been three days since the drive-up food pantry was launched, but already was drawing about 140 people a day — more than half being new to the ministry’s food assistance. Food boxes are also being delivered.

Joe Foell has been on the frontlines of the drive-up food pantry, shuttling grocery carts of food out to the waiting vehicles. Foell said the culture of generosity in Haywood County runs deep, and hasn’t been shaken.

“Everyone is helping each other,” Foell said. “Some people are turning down milk so other families can get it. No one is panicking.”

At least not yet, Nowakowski said. He is deeply worried about what will happen as lay-offs ripple through the local economy, and families go week after week without a paycheck.

But for now, and hopefully for weeks to come, the true colors of Haywood County’s people are still shining through.

“Disaster does bring out the good in people,” Nowakowski said.

Haywood Christian Ministry has a small paid staff running the food pantry program rather than volunteers, since its volunteers were mostly older adults and didn’t need to be out and about.

“We had to let all our volunteers go. We excused 130 volunteers,” Nowakowski said.

The people who already relied on Haywood Christian Ministries food boxes are relieved they can still get them, especially people like Ron Hall, who has respiratory issues and is afraid to go out in public right now.

“Those people are keeping me alive. I am forever indebted to them,” said Hall.

The initiative is in great need of both food donations and monetary donations, however. For information on where to send donations, or how to get food boxes delivered, call 828-452-2909.

The food pantry is open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 150 Branner Ave. in Waynesville.

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