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'This is unprecedented': Treasure Valley food pantry's drive-thru system needs more donations to stay open during coronavirus outbreak

The new system was designed to protect them and the customers while still providing food to those in need but needs more donations to keep up with demand.

BOISE, Idaho — St. Vincent de Paul Southwest Idaho is doing its part to still supply food to those in need while reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus but now needs more donations to help meet the demand of so many people need ing help.

In order to help the Treasure Valley's vulnerable populations, workers created a new drive-thru system. The new system was created to help protect the elderly volunteers, as well as the clients. The system has seen a 75% increase in new pantry recipients and cars are lining up for hours to get some food.

“The idea is its drive-thru, no-touch,” Executive Director Ralph May said.

After this story was originally published on Tuesday, Saint Vincent de Paul saw a massive increase in people seeking help. Now the organization is asking for the community for more donations, especially fresh food and cash donations.

"This is unprecedented," a St. Vincent spokesperson told KTVB on Friday. "If we cannot keep up with demands, we will witness real suffering in this city and beyond in Nampa, Caldwell, Meridian, and Mountain Home. Not hyperbole. Fact."

One of the clients who used the new system is Priscilla Garcia. She’s a stay at home mom for her 4-year-old son, Christian.

“I just appreciate with a lot of things closing and being canceled that this is still open today to help out people who need it,” she said.”

Garcia had never been to the Boise St. Vincent de Paul food pantry. She told KTVB she doesn’t have her own vehicle and the pantry isn’t that close to where she lives.

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She borrowed a friend’s car in order to get there and take some much-needed groceries home. She got things like meat, produce, bread, and juice.

“It’s a lot of good selections,” she said.

She and other customers lined up in cars outside the food bank as part of the new drive-thru system.

“We can keep our distance, we can keep people safe, we can keep people fed,” May said.

This new system isn’t just meant to protect the customers from the novel coronavirus, but also the volunteers.

“A lot of our volunteers are older, so they are a vulnerable population, so we’re also trying to protect them,” he said.

The new system works to protect them so they can still help out members of the community.

“They desperately want to do that,” he said. “They don’t want to just sit at home if they can be safe and continue to help the community.”

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The drive-thru system allows the customer to stay in their car for the majority of the trip. They pull into the food pantry and get in line. Once they’re in line, a volunteer asks them questions to find out what sort of protein they would prefer and if they have any food allergies.

Once that is done, the volunteer takes the order inside. A team of volunteers gather up everything and place it in the cart.

The cart is then rolled out to the customer’s car by a volunteer wearing gloves. The customer then loads up the groceries themselves to limit the amount of contact and to put space between people.

Once the cart is empty, it's taken back into the pantry and it is sanitized.

The new system helps keep the pantry open. This allows them to help people like Scott Donald, a homeless man who comes to the food bank once a week.

“It’s very important,” he said. “It alleviates a fear of ever having to go hungry in our country.”

It also allows Ashley Lairson to get some help after finding out her hours had been cut at the Denny’s near the Boise Airport.

“I’m a waitress so I work off my tips and I haven’t been to work,” she said.

This is her first time turning to this food bank for help.

“I think it’s fantastic that they’re at least still going," she said.

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May told KTVB he was proud of his volunteers who thought of the new system in order to keep providing food to those who need it the most.

“It’s a powerful thing to see in the organization, that kind of initiative,” he said. “That kind of drive to make sure it’s going to work and keep everyone safe at the same time.”

St. Vincent de Paul is using this system at each of their pantries. According to May, anyone can be eligible for help. If someone feels that they need help then they can head down to one of the pantry locations in the Treasure Valley.

If you’re interested in volunteering for the pantry or donating, you can do that by clicking on this link.

 For a full list of locations and hours, click here.

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