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West Suburban Community Pantry Turns To Curbside Pickup Amid COVID Surge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Curbside pickup; its popularity has exploded during the pandemic, both for convenience and to keep everyone safer.

Morning Insider Tim McNicholas shows us how a suburban food pantry is using curbside as a solution to make sure folks don't go hungry.

They say kindness is contagious, but good deeds aren't all that's spreading nowadays.

In the past few days, small food pantries in Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania and beyond have closed due to COVID cases.

Laura Coyle and the West Suburban Community Pantry do not want to be next on that list.

"We just really wanna be able to stay open," said Coyle, the food pantry's executive director. "If we have an outbreak here, it really could shut down the service we provide for a matter of weeks."

So they changed the game plan.

People would usually walk into the pantry and grab what they need--just like a grocery store. Now volunteers pack up the food and bring it out to people in their cars.

"It is beyond wonderful to have a program like this," said Latonia Okanta. "I have four foster kids. They seem like they never get enough food sometimes, ya know?"

Many volunteers are retired, over 65, and especially vulnerable to COVID; so many of them quit.

Coyle says the number of volunteers at the food pantry has dropped more than 25% since the start of the pandemic. In other words, they can't afford to lose anyone.

"It's harder than it's ever been, frankly, right now. I think people are fatigued. Finding volunteers has just been a real challenge," Coyle said.

They're not alone. The Greater Chicago Food Depository said they averaged around 495  volunteers per week in November. Now, with Omicron surging, they're down to about 325 a week.

It's a struggle Coyle knows all too well.

"Every week and every shift, we are scrambling to get the volunteers we need to make things work," she said.

This week, that scramble worked; so much so that the pantry was able to give Okanta not just groceries, but some gifts for her 11-year-old daughter's birthday.

"It's because of programs like this, my daughter, one of my foster daughters, her birthday is today, I'm able to take her out for ice cream," Okanta said.

One act of kindness creating another. That's the good kind of community spread.

If you'd like to volunteer at West Suburban Community Pantry, you can sign up on their website.

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