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People helping others get through this crisis

The coronavirus spread in the United States has sparked a frenzy among its people.

As news of closures and cancellations continues to break, Americans’ reactions to COVID-19 has been popularized by images of stripped grocery shelves, bare toilet paper aisles and hand sanitizer piled high. In response to this pandemic, some have turned to stockpiling, transforming their homes into ready and supply-filled bunkers.

In Palmerton, local folks are filling resource gaps faced by their neighbors by way of a Google Doc.

Clare Papay, an administrator of a neighborhood Facebook page called Palmerton Here and Now, started the online document, which she named Palmerton Helping Hands.

Using the link Papay shared, locals can submit their name or the name of someone they know who requires assistance, whether that’s with food or rent. Once a need is submitted, Papay said, a network of nearly 20 people brainstorm how it might be resolved. They either connect the person with local resources, or come up with their own solution.

One request, made by a family with a baby being born this month, resulted in a virtual meal train, through which some have signed up to drop groceries at the family’s doorstep between March 21 and the start of next month. (There are still open slots, which can be filled using this link: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/4lwgw7.)

Speaking to the Times News Monday afternoon, Papay said she was waiting on a case of toilet paper for the Palmerton Area Food Pantry, courtesy of Lehighton’s Country Inn & Suites.

“I just think this is a time when we need to look to our local communities and help each other out,” Papay said. “This pandemic has caught everybody off guard. Big, national responses are going to take time to figure out, and so as folks find themselves with these immediate needs for food and other things, we got to work together.”

“It doesn’t really seem to be a choice right now,” she said.

Area food pantries, a vital resource for people experiencing food insecurity, are having to change the way they distribute resources to those who need them.

Barbara Brader, who codirects the Palmerton Area Food Pantry alongside Ken Kaiser, said its next distribution will look a little different from previous ones; rather than walk clients through St. John’s Lutheran Church on Fireline Road - where the pantry is housed - volunteers will carry prepackaged bags to cars that drive up.

Brader said the financial guidelines usually employed by the pantry when checking in clients will be temporarily lifted.

“At this point,” she said, “that makes no difference to us. Whoever comes next Friday will be welcome to food.”

Some have been able to prepare for coronavirus and the disruptions it’s caused. Brader said others simply aren’t able to.

“I can go out and buy cases of toilet paper if I wanted to, but people on a limited income, they have to make choices of what they’re going to buy for that day,” she said. “They just don’t have the luxury of stockpiling.”

The Palmerton Area Food Pantry’s next distribution date is March 27 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Families in the borough area who can’t wait until then, or who can’t make the distribution, can contact Brader or Kaiser. Brader can be reached at 610-377-4768, and Kaiser at 610-509-0093.

Located right off Kunkletown Road, the Eldred Township Community Center closed last week at the behest of township supervisors. The center’s thrift store, reading and music rooms closed with it.

But the West End Food Pantry, which is also housed in the community center, didn’t. It will stay open for its twice monthly distributions, held the first and third Saturday of each month, until further notice, Karena Thek, pantry director, said.

Like the Palmerton Pantry, the West End will become a drive-up operation, open to clients from 9 a.m. to noon.

On nondistribution days, people can make use of the miniature teal cabinet located outside the West End Food Pantry.

The Little Free Pantry, as it’s called, is almost always stocked with food.

“We are here for people in crisis,” Thek said. She added that as people are barred from work and paychecks are threatened, food pantries “are more important than ever.”

“We just have to come up with procedures,” she said.

Food fills the Little Free Pantry just outside the West End Food Pantry near Eldred Township. The cabinet is almost always stocked with food, which people experiencing food insecurity can access anytime. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS