Madras UMC uses drive-in food pantry to continue serving community in crisis


For years, Madras United Methodist Church has housed a community food pantry to serve low-income families in their community and for years, it has been well-used.

But coronavirus concerns meant the normally bustling lobby outside of the pantry sat nearly vacant and volunteers were worried, knowing people depend on the food pantry for supplemental assistance.

In just one week, volunteers -- not just from Madras UMC but Catholics and Baptists in the community – turned their normal “grocery store” shopping environment into a drive-up pantry.

“I was a little concerned we might not get that many people,” said pantry organizer Kathy May.

But the community showed up on Tuesday. Big time.

More than 58 cars came through the church parking lot to grab packages of two-weeks of food in order to feed more than 250 people. That’s just the numbers from the first of their normal three-day-a-week schedule where they’ll provide food for approximately 30 households, or a little more than 100 people.

Things have to operate a little differently than normal. Instead of people getting to shop for items they might want, bags and boxes were prepared ahead of time. It also took a few more volunteers than normal to make the packages and then staff the drive-through in the parking lot. 

May said because of their unique set up, they weren’t able to collect all of the data they normally need to for their partners with the Oregon Food Bank.

But the good seems to be outweighing the difficult for them.

“People are just grateful that we’re doing this at all,” May said.

“We are getting a lot of people lined up out there, and it is really pretty awesome,” Slabaugh Hart said.

May said they normally restock shelves on Monday through their community partner, Neighbor Impact, which works with the Oregon Food Bank, but also sponsors with local grocers to provide goods for the Madras Community Food Pantry.

Slabaugh Hart said there is some concern in a town of 6,500 people that the supplies they receive from local grocers will dry up soon, given that people have also been shopping to stock their own shelves at home while they commit to social distancing. This is likely something other food pantries in other communities are experiencing as well.

“I’d encourage people to think when they shop. Buy a couple of cans extra to share with the food pantries—but don’t hoard,” she said.