CINCINNATI — The coronavirus pandemic has hit a social service agency in the heart of Over-the-Rhine.
Our Daily Bread soup kitchen, which has been serving free meals across from Findlay Market for more than 35 years, closed abruptly Monday morning after a volunteer there tested positive for COVID-19.
Executive director Georgine Getty talked with WCPO 9 about what happened, what she and her staff are doing about it and how upsetting it was to have to close the soup kitchen.
Q: What happened?
A: Ever since COVID started, we’ve been serving to-go meals to our guests with limited numbers of staff and volunteers allowed in the building. And unfortunately, one of our volunteers notified us today that she has tested positive for COVID-19.
In an abundance of caution, we’re shutting down until all the staff and volunteers who were potentially exposed to her can be tested, and we can be certain that we’re all healthy.
She did not have direct contact with any of our guests. That’s been limited to a few people up at the front door. And we’re going to make sure that all of us who have directly interacted with our guests are tested.
Hopefully we’re all negative. But if any of us are positive, we’ll take the next step to make sure that our guest population has access to testing, too.
Q: How many people are you serving each day?
A: It’s been going up ever since COVID started. We now serve on average 450 and 500 meals a day.
Q: What percentage of your guests are people experiencing homelessness?
A: Before COVID, about 50% of our guests were experiencing homelessness, and the other 50% were people who lived in the neighborhood and just needed a little additional support with food resources. After COVID, we have been seeing a lot more people experiencing homelessness, especially those who are staying outside right now.
We’re very concerned about just protecting them from COVID but also making sure they continue to have access to nutritious meals.
Q: Do you have any idea how long you’ll be closed?
A: Unfortunately we thought we were getting the quick tests. But we’re actually going to have to wait up to 72 hours to get our test results. So we are planning on staying closed through Friday.
If everyone comes back negative, we will reopen on Monday. If anyone comes back positive we will stay closed for two weeks so we can quarantine and make sure everyone’s healthy before we come back.
Q: Can people get food elsewhere?
A: We planned in advance in case something like this happened. And so Tamar’s Center up at Phillipus Church has agreed to distribute meals to our guest population. It’s only about a block away. And we have specific volunteers lined up who will be delivering bag lunches to Tamar’s Center every morning for them to distribute to our guests.
People will at least be able to get cold, bagged lunches to see them through this week we’re closed.
Q: What role does Our Daily Bread play in the community?
A: We have been here for – we just had our 35th birthday – we’ve been here right across from Findlay Market for all of that time. So many people experiencing homelessness and also other people in the neighborhood depend on us for nutritional support but also camaraderie, information and just a safe place to gather.
And since COVID has started we’re still providing the nutritious meals. We’re serving more food than we ever have. But unfortunately the more social aspect of it, like so many other places, has had to suffer.
Q: Was it tough to realize you had to close?
A: It was absolutely a heartbreaking decision, and we were not able to serve food today, and our numbers are generally high on Monday, because there’s nobody providing food over the weekends. We’ve been handing out grocery bags on Fridays to help people get through the weekend. But they usually come to us pretty hungry on Mondays.
The guests who were lined up, we went and we told them why we were closing, and they were remarkable. They were so supportive and one of our guests was like, “Well, none of you are going to get COVID because God’s looking out for you. And I know he is. And he’s, he’s got you.” And I’m like, yeah, if only that were the case. But hopefully, you know, it will all come out OK and it will just be limited.
The one volunteer who has it does not have symptoms. She’s doing well.
Hopefully it is just limited to her.
We have been wearing face masks. We’ve been wearing gloves. We’ve been practicing social distancing. So we’re just kind of hoping that this one will pass us over and we can get back doing what we do as fast as we can.
Q: How can people help?
A: The best way to help is to go to our website. It lays out all of the different actions we have been taking and ways that you can get involved on all different levels. So ways you can volunteer from home. Ways that you can volunteer also in our building.
I would also like to encourage people to support Tamar Center. This is not in their mission, and they are just doing this as a good neighbor. But I’m being very careful, like, please don’t go drop off food or offer to volunteer at Tamar Center. They’re not a food place. They don’t have walk-in refrigerators. They don’t have the volunteer staff support to be able to handle it. They just have the capacity to be handing out those meals to see us through this crisis until we reopen.
Q: How worried are you about the homeless population?
A: People who are living on the street don’t have a safe place to be sick. They don’t have a place to isolate. A lot of times they don’t have access to hygiene, all of the things that you need when you’re experiencing an illness. And those people experiencing homelessness who are living in the shelters are in a congregate setting where it would potentially spread very quickly.
We’ve all been very concerned about our homeless population and very concerned about keeping them safe and protecting them.
We have been doing contact-less delivery of the meals. We place them on the table; people come up and grab their bag.
We’ve been distributing face masks to our guests as much as we can. We’ve had a lot of donations of face masks. But unfortunately when you have that many people, some people don’t wear the masks. Social distancing can be difficult. So, yeah, I think we’re all very concerned. It’s an extremely vulnerable population.
Q: Anything else you want people to know?
A: I would just like to encourage everyone to wear their masks, stay home if you can, know what a luxury it is to have a home you can stay in, and we’re gonna get through it.
Information about Our Daily Bread and how you can help is available online.
Information about Tamar’s Center is online, too.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.