Donations of grocery gift cards are being collected and distributed to those in need through the Food Pantry in a new drive-up system.
Among COVID-19 pandemic concerns, regulations and community-wide modifications of businesses and services, the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS) Food Pantry has changed how it operates. Other services offered by MIYFS also have shifted.
The Food Pantry has moved from the Luther Burbank Administration Building, now closed, to the Slater Room at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center. YFS director Cynthia Goodwin said the change was necessary to save sanitation supplies and gloves, as well as to allow a drive-up system and better social distancing.
There are two parking spots for Food Pantry clients to park, and then staff come out to them, take their information and hand out the cards. It’s a grab-and-go system without anyone having to enter the building or even leave their car.
The pantry is only offering gift cards, no physical groceries. Anyone can pull up and receive gift cards in the amount of $25 or $50 depending on the number of people in their household.
“Everyone can always use the pantry,” Goodwin said.
Food Pantry services are available to all Island residents and people are encouraged to sign up ahead of their first visit by contacting emergency assistance coordinator Cheryl Manriquez at 206-275-7869 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get added to the approved list. While signing up ahead of time is preferred, Goodwin said MIYFS wouldn’t turn anyone away.
The Food Pantry will be open for pickup from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. on Thursdays. Services also are available by appointment.
To donate a $25 or $50 food card, people can place them in a new temporary dropbox inside the police lobby at City Hall, or donate online. Cards also can be mailed to MIYFS (2040 84th St. SE, Mercer Island, WA 98040).
More information about the Food Pantry, and how all MIYFS services are operating at this time, can be found on the MIYFS Foundation website at miyfs.org. That is also where people can donate to the Food Pantry or to the Emergency Assistance Fund.
MIYFS supports the Island’s most vulnerable community members by providing emergency assistance, family assistance, financial assistance, food assistance, community mental health counseling, drug intervention, school-based mental health counseling and senior assistance.
While most MIYFS staff are telecommuting, they are still available to help. The YFS community mental health counseling Intake line is being checked, so anyone can call 206-275-7657 for help at any time.
Staff also can be reached via phone or email, including counselors, who will be continuing to work with clients, students, families and anyone who may need services. Goodwin said MIYFS is conducting teletherapy over the phone and expects to be able to start offering video conferencing by March 27.
MIYFS also is helping people who are not working — especially now as many people are being laid off as a result of the pandemic — by helping people obtain financial assistance and connecting them with resources.
Goodwin said she is thankful they are still able to provide food pantry assistance and any assistance low income clients might need during this tough time. Staff are still in touch with current clients and available to help anyone in need.
“Our number one goal is to make sure we protect the most vulnerable,” she said. “If people need anything they can always call.”
Goodwin noted that anxiety also can be exacerbated in times of crisis, and many people may find it difficult to stop and go after the resources they need, but MIYFS can help. So far during the outbreak, she said there has been a rise in the number of people reaching out for assistance and she expects contact will continue to grow.
“We’re preparing for it to continue,” she said. “We’ll be in it for the long haul.”
She said MIYFS also has received an increase in donations lately, and had many people reach out to volunteer. Normally, MIYFS would have many opportunities for volunteers, but that is not the case now with social-distancing and other concerns. They are trying to have as few people in one space as possible, so they are not taking volunteers for now.
“We’re getting very compassionate Islanders wanting to help — it’s really wonderful,” Goodwin said.
The Mercer Island Thrift Shop — the main revenue source for MIYFS — is closed at this time until at least April 24. However, some items will be available for purchase online.
In a message on the MIYFS Foundation website about the changes to services, Goodwin wrote, “(MIYFS) continues to provide vital services that are important to you during the COVID-19 outbreak. MIYFS is committed to providing crucial emergency and family assistance, mental health counseling for youth, families, individuals and senior citizens – these are more relevant now than ever before.”
“We want to make sure our seniors, high-risk and vulnerable populations are taken care of throughout this unprecedented event – but most importantly we want to make sure they are safe,” she wrote. “If you have a personal relationship with a neighbor who falls into these categories, do reach out (preferably by phone) and see if they need help.”
The city’s website says residents in need of other emergency assistance resources can call the free, confidential 2-1-1 helpline. That line connects people of all ages 24 hours a day with the local health and human services they need.