PUNTA GORDA — Volunteers and members of the First Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Punta Gorda are giving out more than just food these days at their weekly food pantry.

"There are a lot of people coming because they don’t have a job (due to coronavirus) ... they have been furloughed and so a lot of them are coming and they are skeptical because they never had to ask for anything," said the Rev. Kevin Shaw of First Macedonia. "We try to make them feel welcome and make them feel good about themselves and let them know that it is all right to ask for help if you need help."

Shaw said there has been a noticeable increase in the people stopping by their food pantry.

"The numbers are higher," Shaw said. "Normally, around this time of year, we would do between 60 and 70 families on an average day. Right now we are doing more than 100."

The pantry operates from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the church, 411 E. Charlotte Ave. in Punta Gorda.

Shaw and about 10 volunteers work every Tuesday morning unloading, sorting and distributing food and other goods provided by the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida in Fort Myers.

Before the pandemic, Shaw said they would welcome families inside the sanctuary to wait.

"We have switched everything up," Shaw said. "Now, they come to the driveway and we still give them numbers. When those numbers are called, they drive up to the driveway and we put it in their car.

"As far as social distancing, we are wearing masks, gloves and most (guests) are wearing masks so there is no hand-to-hand passing of goods or anything. Our volunteers are wearing masks and gloves and we are making sure everybody is as safe as possible."

Shaw said that the food pantry has been a blessing for everyone involved. 

"It’s a blessing (for the families, for the volunteers) for all of us," Shaw said. "We feel we get the bigger blessing because we are helping people. Most of these people are people that come every week so we know a lot of them. We pray for them. We talk with them. We know their problems. We are a shoulder to lean on. So it’s like extended family."

For those interested in donating, Shaw said the easiest way is to call the church at 941-637-7743. 

"We are always looking for more resources ... always looking for more donations," Shaw said. "The more we get, the more we can give out to the community."

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