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Second Harvest Food Bank and food pantries take measures to ensure safety and strong food assistance system

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina and food pantries are making changes to their food-distribution operations to reduce spread of the virus and to get food to those in need.

Second Harvest Food Bank said it is doing all it can to ensure that this region’s food-assistance system remains strong.

The organization is the primary source of food for a network of more than 470 local food-assistance programs — pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and meals programs for children and seniors — throughout 18 Northwest North Carolina counties.

“Second Harvest Food Bank is committed, first and foremost, to the health and safety of our community, our staff, our partner agencies, our volunteers, and people facing hunger during this public-health threat, and we will continue to take all steps necessary to ensure families, children, and seniors have access to the food they need, while preventing the spread of COVID-19,” said Eric Aft, chief executive of Second Harvest.

The agency is putting in place several measures, including:

  • Increasing the frequency of deep cleaning and sanitation beyond its current standards
  • Shifting its food-distribution operations to keep as much nutritious food as possible flowing to where it is needed most
  • Ramping up the Providence Community Meals program to provide healthy meals for children and seniors in collaboration with local partners
  • Undertaking partnerships and collaborations with school systems, local partners and supporters to build real-time solutions to reach children with nutritious meals
  • Working with federal, state, and local officials to remove barriers to food access and reach people facing hunger

Gearing up

Aft said Second Harvest Food Bank is working on contacting groups throughout the 18 Northwest North Carolina counties its serves, including the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County and Guildford County school systems to determine how the agency can best meet their needs and complement work already being done by school systems.

The food bank is working with members of the faith community to figure out ways to use the faith-based groups to help distribute meals to children in neighborhoods. It is also checking with its food pantry network to determine the best ways to help them.

“The fact is that a lot of the food pantries that are throughout our 18 counties rely on older adults as volunteers and staff,” Aft said of a group that is high risk of severe illness during this coronavirus outbreak.

So far, the local pantry system is remaining strong and pretty normal, according to Second Harvest Food Bank.

“We even had one agency in the High Point area that was planning to close, but when they realized the need, not only did they decide to stay open but they decided to expand their hours,” Aft said.

As part of its preparations, Second Harvest Food Bank has purchased three tracker trailer loads of emergency boxes of food. One of the truck loads of food will provide boxes for families and the other two will have boxes offering food items for seniors. All the boxes will contain enough food for several days, depending on how people use them.

Aft said partner agencies are getting as much food as they can from the food bank, and he expects the need in the communities to increase given challenges he is starting to hear from the hospitality industry and other industries where businesses have had to close or reduce hours.

“That’s going to most impact our lower wage earners in the community,” Aft said. “We at Second Harvest and the community need to be there to support them through what will be a difficult time.”

Protecting the vulnerable

Aft and several representatives for local pantries said they decided to put new practices in place for the safety of their clients, staff and volunteers.

Like food pantries, the food bank relies on senior citizens for volunteers.

Historically, at Second Harvest, agencies would wait in the food bank’s lobby for access to its warehouse, where they would pull their own items.

Now, agencies will check in but remain in their vehicles until they receive notification via phone call when it is their turn to access the warehouse through the front lobby. Only two shoppers per agency will be allowed in the warehouse at a time.

For now, agencies can still pick their own goods. But, on March 30, when Second Harvest starts a pre-order/pickup system, no partner agencies will be allowed in the warehouse.

COVID-19 is also affecting Second Harvest’s number of volunteers and its Providence catering enterprise.

Aft estimated Second Harvest’s number of volunteers has dropped about 75% because of the virus.

“We rely usually on large groups whether they be corporate, churches or other faith-based groups, various organizations coming here as a group to volunteer,” he said. “That flow has been cut off for the most part because of people necessarily being cautious.”

Although its Providence catering business has dropped off significantly, Aft said, some catering employees have been able to work at the food bank, distributing, sorting and getting products ready.

“We still absolutely need volunteers to come help, but the good news is we’ve been able to repurpose some of our team members to help out,” Aft said.

Changes at pantries

At Maple Springs United Methodist Church’s food pantry in Winston-Salem, which is in the church basement, senior citizens make up about 99% of its volunteers and 65% of its clients, said Scott Andree Bowen, Maple Springs’ director of youth and food pantry ministries.

“I didn’t want to have any kind of risk of being down in the basement, all crammed in together and the possibility of spreading anything,” Bowen said.

The pantry moved outside and set up a drive-through.

When clients drive up, Bowen checks them in by using his smartphone to access a Second Harvest database.

Mt. Moriah Outreach Center’s Bread of Life Food Pantry in Kernersville is expecting above average numbers of people today.

“Some people will use this as an avenue if they couldn’t get food at a grocery store,” said Bishop Todd Fulton, the pastor of Mt. Moriah Outreach Center.

Normally, about 300 people, which equates to about 150 families, visit the pantry on Saturdays. About 150 to 200 people would be at the pantry at one time, but now they will be asked to remain in their cars as pantry volunteers work with groups of 10 or less.

“We’re just delivering it straight to their cars out of our food pantry,” Fulton said.

In addition, instead of signing on to computers to do their applications for goods, people will fill out a paper application.

“So a little challenging, but we’re working through it,” Aft said.

The Salvation Army of Greater Winston-Salem, which serves Forsyth, Davie, Stokes and Yadkin counties, has a pantry in Winston-Salem and in Kernersville.

Both pantries are normally run as client-choice pantries, where people shop as they would in a grocery store.

“To ensure the health and safety of all our clients and our staff, we are now delivering food boxes to the door to avoid gatherings of people and to minimize any chance of contact or infection,” said Bob Campbell, director of marketing and public relations for the local Salvation Army.

He said that 20 or so people are typically waiting at each pantry every morning they are open.

“A good percentage of those are at-risk citizens,” Campbell said. “We serve a lot of senior citizens and a lot of folks without health care, so we don’t want them all siting in an enclosed space.”

Let's put out our Moravian stars as a sign of hope, Ardmore resident says

Tim Roten is asking his Ardmore neighbors in Winston-Salem to put their Moravian stars on their porches as a sign of love, hope and peace in these extraordinary times.

He displayed his star just before 7 a.m. March 19, then posted about it on the Ardmore Neighborhood Facebook page.

“I got great replies,” Roten said.

Many people liked his idea, some of whom said they would hang their stars right away. Several people mentioned they still have their Moravian stars up from the holidays, while others wanted to know where they could find one.

For folks who do not have Moravian stars or cannot find them, Roten suggests using white or clear Christmas lights.

He got the idea for the Moravian stars from stories of other people throughout the country who have been putting up Christmas lights as a gesture of hope amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic. He also got some suggestions from family members and other folks.

Roten is hoping that his suggestion spreads throughout Winston-Salem and Forsyth County to bring people together, saying that the situation with the coronavirus has a lot of people scared and in panic mode.

He believes the Moravian stars and Christmas lights will be a way to bring joy back into the lives of many people, especially those stuck at home and people out for a drive or walk in neighborhoods.

Practicing social distancing is something Roten, who works full time from home as an information technology consultant, knows about because he takes a medication that suppresses his immune system.

“I’m just being really careful and not getting out and (I’m) trying to be cognizant of what I’m doing,” he said.

Roten, who also volunteers as a public information officer for Forsyth CERT, a volunteer community emergency-response team, plans to keep his Moravian star shining for as long as needed.

“Let’s light up the night to give a symbol that we’ve got hope,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr faces calls for resignation over stock sale, speech on COVID-19. He asks committee to review sale

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is facing bipartisan calls for his resignation following disclosures he gave a stark warning about COVID-19 at a Feb. 27 private event that he has not repeated publicly, and for selling stock shares a week before the stock market began its sharp decline.

Burr’s comments carry significant weight in part because he is author of the federal Pandemic All-Hazards Preparedness Act of 2006.

Resignation calls have come from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who is in frequent contact with President Donald Trump, as well as the N.C. Democratic Party, at least one N.C. Democratic senator, and social media commentators.

Carlson’s recommendation for Burr to resign and potentially face an investigation for insider trading comes with the caveat that if Burr cannot provide a reasonable explanation for his actions.

The senator from Winston-Salem took to social media Thursday night for an eight-part Twitter response to denounce as “a tabloid-style hit piece” National Public Radio’s Thursday report on his Feb. 27 comments to the Tar Heel Circle.

None of those tweets contained a response to ProPublica reporting Thursday that Burr sold a large portion of his stock portfolio Feb. 13, including shares of three corporations in the hotel and hospitality industry. The assets come from accounts that are held by Burr, his wife, Brooke, or are jointly held.

On Friday morning, Burr spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll sent a statement from Burr on the stock selling.

“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on Feb. 13,” Burr wrote. “Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time.

“Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency.”

Periodic financial disclosures are required to be submitted by U.S. senators.

Burr sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings in 33 separate transactions. The publication Roll Call has listed his net worth at $1.7 million as of 2018.

On Saturday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Senate minority leader, said on MSNBC that there should be ethics investigation on Burr's transactions, as well as those involving Republican senators Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, David Perdue of Georgia, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein of California.

Loeffler has claimed her stock sales are handled by third-party investors, while Feinstein said her stocks are held in a blind trust.

"The answer, in one word, is yes. There should be and there will be," Schumer said. "I don't own any stocks. I think it's a very bad idea for senators to own stocks.

"There is either a conflict or an appearance of conflict, and one of the things we need with the public is some degree of trust. It's pretty low right now."

Akin to 1918 pandemic

Burr told members of the well-connected private Tar Heel Circle that the novel coronavirus would have dire effects on the U.S. economy and population, likening it to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that left millions dead, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR.

The Feb. 13 trading occurred six days after Burr co-wrote an op-ed piece saying America had tools in place to combat COVID-19 and seven days before the first major decline in the stock market.

Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned the private group about the dangers of COVID-19 on Feb. 27 — the same day President Donald Trump again publicly downplayed the virus.

“It’s going to disappear,” Trump said. “One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear. It could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens.”

The Tar Heel Circle is a nonpartisan group made up of business leaders and entities. A membership in the group costs between $500 and $10,000 and the group claims on its website to offer “interaction with top leaders and staff from Congress, the administration and the private sector.”

Burr told the audience that “there’s one thing I can tell you about this, it is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history.”

“It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic” that had 675,000 deaths in the U.S. and 50 million worldwide.

Burr also cautioned it was not advisable to travel to Europe because of the pandemic, and projected the closing of schools for at least two weeks.

Burr’s response

Burr’s first tweet: “In a tabloid-style hit piece today, NPR knowingly and irresponsibly misrepresented a speech I gave last month about the coronavirus threat. Let me set the record straight.”

He said the Feb. 27 luncheon was publicly advertised and widely attended “with many non-members, bipartisan congressional staff, and representatives from the governor’s office.” He said NPR chose not to report those facts.

“Every state has a state society,” Burr tweeted.” They aren’t ‘secretive’ or ‘high-dollar donor’ organizations. They’re great civic institutions that bring people in D.C. together for events, receptions, and lunches. And they’re open to anyone who wants to get involved.”

Burr tweeted that attending those events is “what we should be doing. Meeting constituents and talking to them about the work we’re doing in D.C. is an important part of our job, especially in times of uncertainty.”

“Unfortunately, NPR’s journalistic malpractice has raised concerns that Americans weren’t warned about the significant steps we may have to take to stop the coronavirus threat. That’s not true.”

Burr cited in his sixth tweet President Donald Trump’s comments at a Feb. 26 press conference.

His seventh tweet said “the message I shared with my constituents is the one public health officials urged all of us to heed as coronavirus spread increased: Be prepared.”

His last tweet: “COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving situation. To know if we’ve been successful in stemming it, we have to keep an accurate accounting of our nation’s response. Purposefully misleading listeners for the sake of a ‘narrative,’ like NPR has done, makes us less safe.”

The stock sale brings back memories of Burr advising his wife, Brooke, in the fall of 2008 to go to their bank’s ATM and make daily withdrawals of spending money. He said he was reacting to the escalation of the global financial crisis and the temporary freezing of the flow of money between banks.

Like now, Burr’s actions became into hot-button fodder for cable-TV pundits.

During speeches Burr made a few months later, he turned the advice to his wife into an anecdote urging Congress to act quickly on the first federal bailout package.

Resignation calls

Carlson started his comments on Burr by saying “he has inside information on what could happen to our country.”

“But he didn’t he give a prime-time address, he didn’t sound the alarm. He didn’t even disavow an op-ed ... in which he wrote ‘America is better prepared than ever for coronavirus.’ He didn’t do any of those things.

“Instead, what did he do? He dumped his shares in hotel stocks so he wouldn’t lose money, and then he stayed silent.”

Carlson said there may be “an honest explanation for what he did. If there is, he should share it with the rest of us immediately.”

“Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading. There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis, and that appears to be what happened.”

MSNBC host Chris Hayes, after citing the stock sell-off and the private donor comments, said “the sucking vacuum of leadership at the top is more and more apparent and deadly each and every day.”

Burr’s U.S. Senate colleague from North Carolina, Thom Tillis, tweeted that “given the circumstances, Senator Burr owes North Carolinians an explanation.”

“His self-referral to the Ethics committee for their review is appropriate, there needs to be a professional and bipartisan inquiry into this matter, which the Ethics committee can provide.”

State, national reaction

Cal Cunningham, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C, for the 2020 election, said “it’s not enough for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate (Burr).”

“The SEC and DOJ must also launch their own investigations into this behavior.”

Wayne Goodwin, chairman of N.C. Democratic Party who is attempting to be elected again as state treasurer, said Friday that Burr “used his position and access to highly sensitive information to profit by selling stock just a week before the market crashed due to a deadly virus sweeping our nation.”

He said Burr took this action as families statewide “are anxious about the future amid this growing public health crisis and looking for moral leadership from their elected officials.”

“Senator Burr has betrayed the trust of every North Carolinian in a time of crisis and should resign immediately. The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice should immediately launch investigations into whether Senator Burr violated federal law by using inside information.”

N.C. Sen. Wiley Nickel. D-Wake, said that “while millions stand to lose their jobs because of the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus, Richard Burr’s only care was his personal bank account. Thousands of North Carolina families are struggling to get by while Burr enjoys that windfall. He should resign immediately.”

Twitter commentators on Burr’s private COVID-19 comments and his stock selling said those actions could serving “as finally something that unites us all!! Our shared hatred toward Burr and (U.S. Sen. Kelly) Loeffler (R-Ga.,) is the bridge between the left and right we’ve all been waiting for.”