When the statewide stay-at-home order went into effect on March 27, Wes Garrison, co-founder of Takeout Central, said he saw an opportunity to help the community.
That same day, Takeout Central delivery drivers picked up meals from Wake County Public Schools and delivered them to the doors of more than 20 families facing food insecurities.
“We wanted to use the drivers we have and the network we’ve got to help people who can’t afford to have restaurant food delivered,” Garrison said. “We want to do anything we can do to help people to stay at home, and avoid exposure by social distancing.”
Garrison said this was a one-time “gratis” service to Wake County individuals.
“We refer to our drivers as ‘Delivery Heroes,’ and that sentiment rings true during these difficult times,” Garrison said in a press release.
Garrison, a UNC graduate, bought the company, which was founded in 1996 as Tarheel Takeout Express, in 2006. After expanding the food delivery service across North Carolina, Garrison said he changed the company’s name to Takeout Central.
The company is currently partnering with the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle to deliver weekly groceries to older people as part of the IFS’s “Grocery Bags for Seniors” program.
According to its website, the IFS provides meals and groceries to more than 250,000 people in seven North Carolina counties who face food insecurity.
Through the Grocery Bags for Seniors program, IFS delivers more than 1,900 grocery bags a month to older people living in nearly 30 low-income consolidated living areas and apartment complexes within Wake and Durham counties, according to its website.
Chasity Newkirk, senior nutrition programs manager for IFS, said the number of requests for groceries by older people has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic due to the closure of congregate sites that normally offer free meals to them.
“It’s creating a lot of fear for seniors of where their next meal is coming from,” Newkirk said. “Our seniors are a vulnerable population, sometimes they’re afraid to leave their houses.”
Newkirk said the Interfaith Food Shuttle began partnering with Takeout Central drivers to deliver groceries once a week to individual households on April 3. Each grocery bag is intended to last each person at least two weeks.
Newkirk said she estimates the number of deliveries per week to be around five to ten, and most of the people requesting groceries live in Wake County.
The Orange County Department on Aging offered dine-in lunches for older people at its two locations — Seymour Center in Chapel Hill and the Passmore Center in Hillsborough — prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 16, the Department ceased dine-in lunches and began offering curbside pick-up of meals three days a week in an effort to maintain social distancing and keep the older population safe, said Beverly Shuford, a communications specialist for Orange County.
In addition to offering curbside meal pick-ups, the Department started offering grocery delivery and supplemental food boxes for older people who have no means of transportation or feel uncomfortable leaving their homes, Shuford said.
Shuford said these initiatives address a critical uptake in food requests by older people since the pandemic, which she said may be due to the stay-at-home order. She said the department is proceeding with the utmost caution to formulate a reopening plan for in-person services at the centers.
“We serve a population that is high-risk, and our centers are places of high social connectivity,” she said. “We have to take reopening more slowly because of the nature of our programs and the population we serve.”
The number of food requests by older people the IFC received slightly decreased at the end of April, which Newkirk said might be a result of older people receiving federal stimulus checks and additional benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but she said she expects the number of requests to rise again.
“There will always be a need, and during this time of uncertainty we don’t see this need dying out or staying low for long,” Newkirk said. “The food insecurity problem is definitely not going to get any better with this pandemic.”
Without the help from Takeout Central, Newkirk said she isn’t sure if the IFS staff would have been able to provide weekly groceries to seniors' individual households. She said she hopes the IFS and Takeout Central continue partnering after the pandemic ends.
Garrison said he continues to look for additional ways Takeout Central can help people during the pandemic.
“Everybody’s got to play their part to make sure we come out on the other side,” Garrison said. “We hope to continue to support our neighbors long after schools reopen and this pandemic is behind us.”
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