Adjusting After Disaster - Updates from Sewer Inundation at Food for People

Sewage Clean-up

Food for People’s wild journey of the last two and a half months started with the city sewer malfunction that occurred on February 28th, sending a gusher of sewer water several inches deep throughout our building. In the days that followed, the extent of the damage quickly became obvious as workers in biohazard suits and respirators worked to mitigate the damage; removing the standing water, disinfecting equipment and building surfaces, tearing out walls, ripping up flooring, and completely dismantling our commercial kitchen. It looked like a war zone and left us wondering how on earth we could resume services in such a seriously compromised facility.Our first priority was to find a new location for our Choice Pantry, which typically serves 1300 Eureka area households each month. Fortunately, the City of Eureka offered us the use of the old Chamber of Commerce building at 2112 Broadway. Thanks to the herculean efforts of our staff and volunteers, racking, refrigeration equipment, desks, and large quantities of food were moved into the new site and we opened for business on March 11th. It was initially set up in our preferred “choice” style, which ironically was initiated at the height of the 2008-2009 recession to provide our clients the dignity they deserve in choosing the items that fit their personal and dietary needs. But in less than a week’s time, as more information about the seriousness of the coronavirus was released, we realized we would have to shift gears once again and switch to pre-bagged food to minimize contact and keep everyone safe. Staff and volunteers rallied and continue to pre-bag both nonperishable and fresh items on a weekly basis.

In the weeks that followed, it became clear that we would have to move staff out of our 14th St. facility for their own safety. On March 29th the great folks from Humboldt Moving and Storage arrived on the scene to move part of our team to the Broadway location and the rest to a leased warehouse space on 2nd Street.  A couple of weeks later we were able to lease additional warehouse space on Cedar St. with owner Ken Gregg offering us the first two weeks for free. It’s been a constant shuffle of pallets of food amongst multiple sites and an ongoing challenge to shift operations away from the facility that has been the “mothership” for our 18 programs for the past 20 years. And it has been a particularly stressful and exhausting time for our staff. They’ve experienced a complete disruption in their daily routines and a shift in job duties, and it has unfolded as they’ve struggled with the same fears we all have about contracting the coronavirus. But they’ve proven themselves to be the true heroes we always knew they were, and we’re proud of the fact that, thanks to their commitment and the support we’ve received from our community, we’ve been able to maintain operations countywide.

Food distributions throughout our countywide network of 17 food pantries, 16 senior program sites, homebound delivery program, Mobile Produce Pantry, Backpacks for Kids, and Children’s Summer Lunch program look different then they have in the past, in order to maintain social distancing and ensure the safety of our staff, volunteers, and clients. Drive-up or drive-through models have been implemented at sites that have the space to do so safely, and traffic cones and caution tape are used to mark off six-foot distances where that is not possible. All staff and volunteers are required to wear masks and gloves, and regular use of hand sanitizer and disinfectants is required.Managing sites that typically serve 50-200 people over the course of a few hours has been the biggest challenge. Officers from the CSET team at Eureka Police Department have been a great resource with drive-up/drive-through operations locally but absent that resource in the more rural communities, we’ve had to rely on other partners for help. DHHS Outreach staff have been a fantastic resource, and site partners at various locations countywide have stepped up to help us distribute senior bags and the produce typically provided through our Mobile Produce Pantry, to ensure struggling households receive the food they need. School personnel from the 35 sites participating in the Backpacks for Kids program made it clear they wanted the program to continue even if schools were closed. Many have been picking up the food, packing the bags, and delivering them to the homes of the children enrolled in the program. We appreciate the dedication of local school district staff that has done an outstanding job keeping the kids fed despite school closures.

The bottom line is that we are fortunate to be part of a community that pulls together when times get tough. This is new territory for all of us, and it’s hard to know how the devastating economic impacts of the coronavirus will unfold in the coming months and perhaps years. But the outpouring of support for first responders, essential services workers, and those of us who provide critical safety net services has been heartwarming and inspiring. We have the deepest gratitude for all the volunteers, community partners, and financial donors who have stepped up to help. Your support makes it possible for us to help when needed most. And that’s what community is all about. If you or someone you know is in need of food assistance, please visit our website for the most up to date information. We want everyone in our community to stay safe and healthy.