Lehigh posted a series of graphics on its Instagram story raising awareness about low donations at the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley in Bethlehem. Second Harvest provides services to six counties in the region, including Northampton County.
Adrienne McNeil, assistant vice president of community and regional affairs at Lehigh and chair of the human resource committee at the Hispanic Center, said the biggest challenge was that during the height of the pandemic, community food drives that business and other organizations hold were not happening. She said with the increased demand, the center was running out of food as fast as it was coming in, with difficulty keeping the shelves stocked.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we stopped running food drives with local organizations because logistically, it’s challenging to ensure that we have enough volunteers to help pick up those donations because sometimes when they come, they’re very big,” Marrero said. “The other challenge is other organizations who provided us with those donations in the past weren’t able to run those collections due to their sanitizing concerns.”
In addition to the logistical challenges of running food drives, household sizes in the Bethlehem area have increased during the pandemic.
“Pre-COVID-19, the average family size was about two to three person households,” Marrero said. “Currently, those family sizes are averaging at a four to five person household.”
While the reason for this increase in family size is unknown, Marrero suspects that unemployment and the closing of schools played a role in this change.
McNeil said in previous years, Lehigh has been involved with the Hispanic Center.
Lehigh University, along with other community organizations, helped build the Fowler Community Wellness Center located on the corner of East Fourth and Fillmore streets, McNeil said. She said it acts like “a one stop shop” as it contains the Women, Infants and Children office, the Community Empowerment Program, Career Link, Pinebrook Family Answers and a St. Luke’s clinic.
“It’s a destination so our families in South Bethlehem can get seen there versus sometimes the barrier of trying to find health care options,” McNeil said.
McNeil and Marrero both said ordering food items and shipping them directly to the Hispanic Center is a way to help the organization amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marrero emphasized need at the senior center. There, the Hispanic Center provides culturally appropriate shelf-stable food items due to the fact that 100 percent of the participants are of Hispanic or Latino descent.
Banessa Tenezaca, food pantry coordinator at the Hispanic Center from January 2019 to January 2020, recommended college students get involved through clubs and school organizations.
“I ran a couple food drives at Lehigh while I was working (at the Hispanice Center), and it had such a good turnout,” Tenezaca said. “I think that if a Lehigh student is looking to help out, that would be one of the ways to do that as well. Or start their own collection.”
Tenezaca thinks it would be a good idea for sororities, fraternities and other clubs at Lehigh to start their own food collection and bring it to the Hispanic Center, as well to participate on distribution days so these organizations can see how much of an impact their donations have on those in need in the Lehigh Valley.