VALDOSTA – When Beth Mathis had to tell a client she was unsure if she could continue providing meals due to the coronavirus spread, she said she felt awful.
Mathis is the coordinator of the Break Bread Together, a meals-on-wheels program spearheaded by First Presbyterian Church that caters to residents age 65 and older and provides lunch to them Monday through Friday.
The program currently serves 38 clients within city limits and has more than 70 people on a two-year waiting list.
The growth of the COVID-19 pandemic, often referred to as the coronavirus pandemic, has affected how nonprofits can provide assistance, including Break Bread.
“I hope this passes quickly,” Mathis said. “I want it to go back to normal, but I’m not sure there is a normal when we go back. I don’t know what it will be.”
Though many meals-on-wheels program have had to cut back on the number of meals they serve, Mathis said, Break Bread has no plans to do so at the moment.
The amount of available volunteers to deliver is diminishing as some people have chosen not to participate in the program due to the increasing social-distancing precaution, Mathis said.
The precaution to remain at least six feet away from others has caused Break Bread to alter its operations. Volunteers can no longer enter a client's home as they did in the past; now, they must deliver the meal on the front porch and immediately leave.
Mathis said volunteers have as little contact with people as possible.
New paper bags are now replacing recycled plastic bags to hold the meals to limit potential exposure. Mathis said this is one more expense for the program.
“With people losing jobs, it’s hard to know from one day to the next how our budget is going to be,” she said.
Break Bread typically gets its food from restaurants or a school but Mathis said the strain put on restaurants and the closure of schools has affected the feeding program.
Although organizers are using takeout to provide meals, Mathis said providing healthy dishes is a concern.
Mathis said the program has had difficulties making meals, too. She gave the example of not being able to make sandwiches for clients as there is no available bread in the stores.
“With the ways things change, I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring,” she said.
With mounting pressure, Mathis said she was faced with the question of whether or not Break Bread could continue its service.
“I really hope so but I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said she told a client.
Some of the people who are benefitting from Break Bread have done so for three or four years, some of them even longer.
“They’ve come to depend on us, and they’ve come to trust us and let us help them with things in their lives or their houses,” Mathis said. “We’ve made a bond together, and I feel like I’m letting them down if we’re not able to be there for them.”
Break Bread is not accepting any new clients but is seeking volunteers and monetary donations.
Call (229) 249-0779 for more information.