Shaheen On Federal Coronavirus Response; & How Coronavirus Impacts Food Assistance

Mar 16, 2020

What is the federal government doing to help states and healthcare providers prepare for the growing number of cases of the coronavirus? We talk with Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Then, we look at how those who recieve food assistance, from SNAP to  free or reduced school lunches, are impacted by school closures and other strains on social services. 

Air date: March 17, 2020. 

GUESTS:

Food Assistance Resources:

New Hampshire Food Bank, and here is a list of all the food banks they work with across the state

Find out more about state food assistance programs, including SNAP

Transcript:

This transcript is computer-generated, and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy. and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
Countless activities in New Hampshire on pause until early April, but now the Centers for Disease Control says it could be a lot longer than that recommended yesterday. A nationwide halt in gatherings of more than 50 people for eight weeks. Meanwhile, federal policy is scrambling to keep up from both a health perspective and an economic perspective. And so today, On the Exchange, we'll spend the first part of our show with New Hampshire U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Later in the hour, we'll find out how food is getting to those who are most vulnerable in the Granite State. That's what we're covering today on the Exchange. And as we practice social distancing here at NHPR, all our guests will be remote for the foreseeable future. And today, I myself am hosting remotely as well. Also, we're unable to take your calls. We apologize for that. But we really do want to hear from you. So send us an e-mail. And Senator Shaheen joins us from Capitol Hill. And Senator Shaheen, we're very grateful for your time. Thank you so much.

Senator Shaheen:
Well, nice to be with you, Laura. I know this is an uncertain time for folks. And certainly we're all thinking about people who are directly affected because they have been laid off from work, because they have a family member or themselves who have contracted the coronavirus, because they're not sure what's going to happen with their kids and getting back to school. So it's a lot there are a lot of reasons why people are feeling unsettled right now.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and you hinted at the stimulus package, which will definitely talk about in a moment. But first, let's talk about the health health aspects of this. What's your role? Senator Shaheen, as a U.S. senator, to make sure that our health systems have what they need to take care of people who become ill? We don't want to end up like Italy or Iran.

Senator Shaheen:
Well, that's right. And the most important thing right now we can do, and that's why the guidelines that have been issued by the administration, by the Centers for Disease Control, by the governor and others, are to. To wash your hands to if you're sick, to stay home, to not go out in crowds, to stay out of places where you're in groups of actually the president said 10 or more yesterday. It's because what we want to do is to slow down the rate of spread of the virus, because what we don't want is what's happened in Italy, which is that hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and having to make life or death decisions because they don't have the equipment, they don't have the medical personnel that they need.

Senator Shaheen:
So if we can if we can do that and avoid that happening to our hospitals and to our healthcare workers, that's really important. And the first thing that we did in Congress two weeks ago was to pass. And a comprehensive package to address the medical situation with the coronavirus so.

Laura Knoy:
Good.

Laura Knoy:
Tell us what was included in that. Yeah.

Senator Shaheen:
Significant funding, about three billion dollars to address research and treatment for vaccination and medical treatment to respond to the coronavirus. It included five hundred million dollars to address personal protective equipment. So that's the masks and the sort of white disposable.

Senator Shaheen:
They're not really uniforms, but.

Laura Knoy:
Gowns, so to speak.

Senator Shaheen:
Cover ups. Yeah. That you see with health care personnel.

Senator Shaheen:
It included support for states. So New Hampshire got 4.9 million dollars last week to respond. It's so that we can look at what we need to do going forward. An initial investment in that and that goes to the Department of Health and Human Services and they will determine how that money is spent. There is also a separate pool of funding that allows states to get reimbursed for moneys that have already been spent. That's been an issue in New Hampshire where they went ahead and start started taking money out of other funds so they could respond to the coronavirus quickly. And the the significant challenge at this point is the testing and making sure that the tests are widespread and available to people who need them. And that's been the real challenge and the hold up. And I think it took the CDC and other federal Department of Health and Human Services longer than many of us thought it should to make decisions about opening up to the private sector so that now we have lab core and quest- who are able to do testing.

Senator Shaheen:
We have now we have hospitals and hospital systems that are able to do testing on their own. That that took a while to make. that decision.

Senator Shaheen:
That did take a while. Yeah.

Laura Knoy:
We heard from a doctor yesterday, Senator Shaheen, who said he had access to quest- testing kits, but not enough protective gear to welcome patients for that testing. Very frustrating to hear from him. We also heard from other listeners just yesterday who have loved ones with symptoms that seem pretty suspect, but they can't get testing. So it just seems like everywhere I look, I see bottlenecks. I don't see this thing moving.

Senator Shaheen:
Well, that's right. And as I said, it took it took too long for the, those efforts to get ramped up, hopefully they are happening now.

Laura Knoy:
And why is that Senator Shaheen? I'm sorry to interrupt you, but it's so frustrating. We got a survey from listeners who just are telling us, like they're not getting what they need. So what took so long?

Senator Shaheen:
I think it took a long time at the federal level for the administration to make the decisions they needed to make to open up. I don't know why it took that long. There are lots of speculation about that. But the fact is they didn't allow private providers like Quest and LabCorp to come in. They didn't allow the testing by private hospitals and other university hospitals. And that slowed things down. And there was a lot of confusion about who you call if you need a test and why you should do and that hopefully some of that confusion now has been player made more clear to people. And we are beginning to see some of the drive by facilities because one challenge has been people going into emergency rooms. That is not what we want to happen. If if you are feeling ill and you think you have the symptoms of the coronavirus, call your health care provider first and let them they will tell you what to do. Now, there are some hospitals in New Hampshire. There is this. The National Guard has been at their facility in Manchester. They're allowing drive by tests. And that means people don't have to go in to an emergency room and possibly put at risk personnel. And the other people who are in the emergency rooms. So we need to get that ramped up as quickly as possible and make sure that people have the the information they need and that the tests can get done.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Listeners, again, for the first part of our show today, we're talking with New Hampshire's senior U.S. senator, Jeanne Shaheen. We're looking at some of the federal policies toward coronavirus, both in terms of health and the economy. A little bit later in the hour, we'll talk about how Granite Staters who are food insecure are getting the food they need during these disruptive times. You can join us with an e-mail. And so everyone is remote.

Laura Knoy:
Senator Shaheen, Elizabeth wrote us, I strongly support quick Senate passage of the strengthened version of the family's first coronavirus response act. Elizabeth says it's important to ensure that no one, including immigrants and undocumented people, goes without food and that everyone can get tested and medical equipment. Elizabeth. Thank you for writing in. And Senator Shaheen, so what is the the strengthened version of the family's first coronavirus Response Act that Elizabeth writes about?

Senator Shaheen:
Well, it is very important that we pass that. I support that, Elizabeth. And we've been waiting for the final package to come out of the House. There were some technical changes that they needed to do before the Senate could get it. I think we now have it in the Senate. So I'm hoping we are going to act on it soon.

Senator Shaheen:
And it does a number of things. It provides emergency paid sick leave to workers who get infected with the coronavirus and have to take time off from work either for them or to take care of a sick family member. It reimburses small businesses for providing paid sick leave. It provides additional funding for Medicaid in New Hampshire to cover and other states to cover the costs of health care as a result of the virus that provides nutrition assistance to people who need it, to students who are not in school. And so need need those school lunches to food banks, to programs with program program that helps mothers and infants, to senior citizens who need meals on wheels. So there is a whole package of food assistance that's part of part of it to make sure that people can get the food they need so they don't go hungry. It requires insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare for our veterans to cover the full cost of testing for coronavirus and implements measures to make sure that those without insurance can get tests and have those costs fully covered.

Senator Shaheen:
So it's designed to both provide help to people who are affected because they may be infected with the coronavirus, but also to those people whose work places have shut down, who may need sick leave, who who need food assistance.

Senator Shaheen:
It's designed to do a whole range of things to try and help, particularly the most vulnerable.

Senator Shaheen:
And I would I think, Laura, that's not the only economic package there will be. I think there is going to be another one. There is work beginning on that now. So hopefully we can we can help. Not just people immediately affected because they they have someone themselves or someone in their family to get the coronavirus, but also because of the economic impact that we're seeing, because of the virus on businesses, on people's employment, on a whole range of industries that are affected.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Teresa sent us an email who says, As an advocate for our homeless in our region, I urge Senators Shaheen and Hassen to add provisions for homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless. So, Theresa, thank you for that. And I also want let Theresa and Elizabeth know that later in the hour, we will be focusing on those folks who are food insecure and how they're getting the food they need during these times. But I want to ask you about something you said in that stimulus package. Senator Shaheen, emergency paid sick leave. And that has definitely been an issue for folks. How is that going to work? Where's the money going to come from?

Senator Shaheen:
Well, we're going to cover that by at the federal level.

Laura Knoy:
So businesses don't have to pull that off their own pockets.

Senator Shaheen:
We're providing yes, we're providing reimbursing the costs of that paid sick leave to businesses. I see. If they don't already provide it.

Laura Knoy:
If they don't already provided it, They've also been provisions that people can apply for unemployment insurance and write that right away, no questions asked. Is that folded into this stimulus bill as well? Senator Shaheen It is.

Senator Shaheen:
There is an expansion of unemployment benefits as well.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. And Congress and the president have, as you know, in recent years, approved very large budgets with very large deficits. Economists been saying for a long time that when there's a crisis, the government won't have much wiggle room. They've been saying you shouldn't deficit spend when times are good. How much is Congress painted into a corner here now because of the spending of earlier eras?

Senator Shaheen:
Well, I think the critical thing right now, Laura, is for us to do everything we can to respond to the coronavirus, to address what we need to around the illness and then around the economic implications. And that should be our priority right now.

Laura Knoy:
Don't worry about the deficit for now, then.

Senator Shaheen:
I think we need to worry about the deficit, but not right now. And as right now, what we've got to do is respond to what's happening in families with their health and in the economy and the health of the economy.

Laura Knoy:
As the U.S. capital itself has been trying to mitigate the potential spread of coronavirus, and we're all trying to practice social distancing. As I said, we're practicing it ourselves here at NHPR. I am hosting remotely today. What impact has that had on you and your ability to do the work that you need to do, Senator Shaheen to tackle the health and economic impacts of this?

Senator Shaheen:
Well, senators are here this week because it's very important that we get these other pieces of legislation that were responding to the situation in the country right now that we get those done so that people know they can count on help when they need it. So we are here are almost all of the employees in my office and most offices on in the Senate are working remotely. We have a couple of people who are here answering phones and we have some other folks who are here because they have particular issues that they're working on and they need to be here. My legislative assistant who works on healthcare is here because he says he's staying on top of what we're doing around the health care response to the coronavirus. But most folks, both here and in New Hampshire, are working remotely, as I think people are trying to do in businesses across New Hampshire and across the country to do what the guidance suggests, which is stay out of large crowds and work from home. You know, somebody somebody sent me an email yesterday and pointed out that our for many of our parents and grandparents who were called to to respond to World War Two and the country did it with great unanimity and cooperation and everybody was all in. And he pointed out that, you know, we're being called to respond. And what we're being asked to do is to stay inside and sit on the couch. So we don't want everybody sitting on the couch the whole time. But but I think it's an important comparison. This is this is about trying to ensure that we don't infect other people who may be at risk.

Laura Knoy:
Ted wrote us from Hanover. He says There are still too many impediments to broader use of telemedicine in New Hampshire. Ted asks, Isn't it time to push this forward aggressively on a state and federal level with so many people homebound? Can you address that briefly, Senator Shaheen? And then I do want to ask you about the upcoming elections.

Senator Shaheen:
Yes. And in fact, the first package that dealt with the medical response to coronavirus included significant provisions to address telehealth and both funding for that and some provisions. One of the challenges has been that if you're at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital and you're trying to do a video into Vermont around issues, through your telehealth connection, that if you're a doctor or only licensed in New Hampshire, you were prohibited from doing that. Now, under the emergency Stafford Act that the president invoked, that is no longer a requirement. So to allow you medical personnel to cross state lines to address emergency, it's a good question.

Laura Knoy:
And my last question for you, Senator Shaheen, and I know you have an action packed day, so I won't keep you. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden are going to introduce a bill next week that will, quoting them here, guarantee every voter a secure mail in paper ballot and help states cover the cost. They say vote by mail is a time tested, reliable way for Americans to exercise a constitutional right. And it is the right response to this crisis. What do you think, Senator Shaheen? Do you agree? Time for a vote by mail?

Senator Shaheen:
Well, we know that there are states that do vote by mail. I think Oregon does only vote by mail. And I think particularly in times of crisis like this, where we've already seen Ohio re-postpone their primary election today because of the coronavirus threat. It's important to have an alternative for voters. This is something that I understand is passed in the House and is going on to the Senate and our legislature in New Hampshire. So I think there are very good reasons why this would be a good thing to make available to our citizens.

Laura Knoy:
So if this Klobuchar Wyden bill comes up next week, which they hope to do, it sounds like you're a vote in favor.

Senator Shaheen:
Well, I have to I haven't actually seen the legislation. I'm one of the things I learned early is not to commit until you actually see the fine print better enough. Certainly the idea, I think is a good one, and I support the idea. And I think we need to look at that. And I'm hopeful that it's something I can support.

Laura Knoy:
Senator Shaheen, thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate it. And we hope to check back in with you perhaps in a week or so. Thanks a lot.

Senator Shaheen:
Good to be with you.

Laura Knoy:
That's New Hampshire U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat and former governor of New Hampshire. Now, coming up, we will find out how Granite State agencies who provide food for the needy are dealing with all the disruptions of these times. And stay with us. We'll be right back.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, an estimated one in nine Granite Staters are at any time food insecure, meaning they're not sure where their next meal might be coming from. And about 12 percent of children live in food insecure environments. Now, with coronavirus affecting the operation of regular social services, there's even more uncertainty around this. We're checking in on this for the rest of the hour today. And we'll take your questions, too. We're all working remotely to practice social distancing, and that has tied up some of our technical capacity. We have three guests. Eileen Liponis is with us, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank. Eileen, welcome. Thank you for your time.

Eileen Liponis:
Thank you, Laura.

Laura Knoy:
Also with us, Michael Reinke, executive director of the Nashua Soup Kitchen. And Michael, thank you for being with us.

Michael Reinke:
Great to be here.

Laura Knoy:
And also with us, Deb Anthony, executive editor of Gather NH, A Food Pantry Serving the Seacoast. And Deb, welcome. Thank you also for your time.

Deb Anthony:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
Well, all of you, we've been asking listeners to share how they've been preparing for coronavirus on our survey at NHPR.org. And a lot of people who responded said, I have tons of extra food around. I have stocked up on food and drugs. We've spent what is typically two months worth of groceries. We've been ordering food and dry goods online. So that is what we've been hearing from some of our listeners to our survey. It certainly reflects the stories we've seen in the media, how there's been a run on staples at the grocery store. But I lean to you first. How does this natural instinct to stock up affect your operations at the food bank, Eileen?

Eileen Liponis:
Well, luckily, it really hasn't. We are in the currently we are in a relatively strength position with our inventory is very strong and healthy, and the supply chain as it stands now is still the pipeline is full, it's healthy. I think the grocery store experiences that we've experienced the past few days are just a hiccup and we are in a position of strength and we continue to anticipate to be that in that position of strength. And we're just curious about how we're going to continue to fund it. Also, in the short term, what we're experiencing is with the run on the grocery stores. There is a lot less salvage for us, but we anticipate that once they restock, that will continue as well. But weeks ago, we started ordering we released a significant number of funds to order ourselves. And so we are in this position of strength because of that. And we've also been doubling our meal production in anticipation of an increase in demand on that from our agencies, such as models changing. We're not accepting more volunteers here at the food bank. We want to keep our staff kind of. We're not a state agency, but we feel like to some extent we are first responders and we need to stay healthy. We're experiencing social distancing, practicing social distancing with our agencies for pickup.

Laura Knoy:
I mean, I want ask you about the the sort of personnel end of it, but I'm very interested in, pardon me for interrupting. I'm very interested to know what you said about your supply chain. So it seems like you're using. You have different supply chains from the regular grocery store. So these runs on pasta and toilet paper haven't affected you.

Eileen Liponis:
Not yet.

Laura Knoy:
Not yet.

Eileen Liponis:
I don't anticipate that they're going to. Like I said. And we work with our grocery partners and we are also in a position where we share a food broker with a number of other regional food banks in New England. And because of her experience and buying power, we get to leverage off each other. We are all in a relative position of strength. I just want the public to know that.

Laura Knoy:
Sure. It good to hear. And Michael and Deb. Perhaps. Michael, you first. So again, when many people anticipate a crisis, they stock up. But, Michael, what about people who can't afford to do that? How did they approach these situations?

Michael Reinke:
Right. So we have a couple of different issues. One of which is we are a community kitchen. We serve breakfast in the morning. We serve dinner at night. And a couple of weeks ago, we said, OK, what do we need to do? We need to wipe down surfaces more. We need to encourage people to stay home if they're sick. We need to give people masks if they're coming in and they need the meal, but they're also not feeling well. Last Thursday, we said, OK, what we might need to go to doing meals to go, but we're probably a couple weeks out from that. We started doing meals to go last night. So when people are coming in, they're not able to eat here anymore. We give them a meal to go and we send them out in addition to that, starting next week. We are going to be doing our boxes to go. So generally people when they come in, they're able to do client choice, OK? This is what I need in terms of taking food home. Instead, we're going to be doing prepared boxes. People can come pick up a box and go again, doing social dis distancing, limiting how people have X, you know, limiting contact.

Laura Knoy:
It's interesting. Yeah. So, Michael, we know given the order that the governor put out last night that restaurants and so forth are only supposed to do take out, to go, and so forth. So you're a soup kitchen. So correct me if I'm wrong. Like that typically would mean people come in for dinner and they all sit down and have dinner together and then they leave. Sounds like you can't do that anymore.

Michael Reinke:
Exactly. Last Friday, we had probably over 200 to 300 people come in for breakfast and dinner. Our plan yesterday morning was to limit seating to forty. Like take our seating from a hundred and twenty down to 40 to be able to allow for social distancing, say that people would only have 20 minutes to eat and then we need to turn it over. That was our plan yesterday morning, by 4:00 yesterday afternoon. Everything changed. We like. OK. Now we have to go to meals to go. You know, here is a sandwich. Here's a fruit. Here is an energy bar. If we have it, here is a box drink and come on back tomorrow morning.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. That's really interesting. And boy. We all understand that everybody's having to make changes at the very last minute like that. So now you're just doing meals to go boom. You switched on a dime like that and that's what you're doing.

Michael Reinke:
We have an awesome staff and we can make that happen. I would say that our next concern we have is kids. You know, in Nashua, 40 percent, 4000 kids in national public schools get free or reduced lunch. Those are kids that are not able to make it to the kitchen on their own. One of the things we did three years ago was we said kids are not coming in for meals. We know kids are hungry. So we started doing frozen meals and we've been distributing them to six different schools in the greater Nashville Public School District. We're going to make those frozen meals available at any place where Nashua Public School District. We're just providing school lunch. So Nashua is providing school lunches at different schools around the district. We're gonna have our frozen evening meals that, you know, parents can take home, warm up three minutes in a microwave, eight minutes in the oven and don't switch those two. Yeah. And then so we want to make sure that kids have access to food. You know, this is a time when we need to be taking care of the most vulnerable and the most at risk.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and I definitely want to ask all of you about children. But Deb Anthony, I don't want to forget you, executive director of Gather NH, a food pantry serving the seacoast. It was really interesting to hear Michael talk about how he basically had to change the way he ran his organization. Very quickly, what sorts of turnarounds have you had to do at Gather N.H.?

Deb Anthony:
Well, thank you, Laura, for asking. We had we were doing similar things. What you're hearing from Michael. We've done some work around social distancing. So we have a catering market in parts of the Hampshire where people can come and shop. It's a free shop model. And then we also have meals for kids, which has been on the road model. So those two are kind of different to an in-house model that we're using as we're actually sort of getting people to the door and we're only allowing two people in the pantry at the same time. It's a fairly decent sized pantry market, but it's just the idea of touching and shopping. And so and our folks have been amazingly receptive and, you know, they're nervous. You know, I think it's really important. I was talking with my staff yesterday because it's a scary time for everyone and it's a scary time for the people that volunteer here and work here. And you can imagine a lot of our volunteers are retirees. And we're certainly understanding that some of them are not comfortable coming in and encourage them not to come in. So we're running on a fairly slim group of people, but we've been just allowing a couple of families and the time and everybody has been really good with that. And they get to do their shopping and they leave. And hopefully it holds them over for the next week. The one thing we've seen in and on the meals for kids, again, that's a mobile program that we do. Can we generally only do that during school vacations and the summer school brand summer break? But we're on the road as of today. And so we'll be serving from Seabrook, Portsmouth, Kittery, Maine, up Toronto. And we're anticipating seeing anywhere between 700, 900 children a week now slots.

Laura Knoy:
And that's a lot of gasoline too going to all those homes.

Deb Anthony:
It's a lot. It's a lot. And so normally we've been much more about free choice. We've set up a farmer's market. People get to shop for what they want, but we're definitely kind of taking the bag out, box it up. You know, this is your box for the week. We'll see you next week method because we're just one, we have to really consider what we can get and how much food we have. And 2, we just want to avoid as much contact as possible and doing that so that everybody's staying safe. And I want to.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. Michael Reinke, Eileen Liponis, Deb Anthony. Hold on one moment. Just want to remind our listeners that they can join us. I know that there are people who have questions, comments and concerns about this topic. We're looking for the rest of the hour today, an Exchange about how people who need food are getting it. And we're hearing about how some of these social service agencies have really had to respond and change quickly to this developing crisis. Eileen Liponis is with us for the for the rest of the hour, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank. Michael Reinke, executive director of the National Soup Kitchen. And Deb Anthony, executive director of Gather N.H. That's a food pantry serving the seacoast. And Eileen, I did want to pick up with you on something that Deb Anthony mentioned, and that's volunteers. I know all of you rely on volunteers. And yet this is a time when we're all being told to socially distance ourselves. And a lot of volunteers are retired people just because they have the time to do it. So how are you managing that, Eileen?

Eileen Liponis:
Well, like everyone else, our volunteers are an age group that is at more risk, and so we want to protect them. So we really have put off all our volunteer efforts except for volunteer efforts in the kitchen, which Chef Jason is in charge of. And there's a number of restaurants that have stepped forward with kitchen help. And so we're containing volunteers to one area just because we are doubling our meal production. But we are first and foremost concerned with the health and safety of our agencies and keeping our distance for them. But we've taken our own employees. And internally, we're going to be doing the sorting. We're gonna be putting together mailboxes. We anticipate that there's going to be, you know, like the model is changing and the choice model is not there for health reasons because of the size of the market that we're also anticipating that we're gonna be doing putting together some family boxes as well.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. And how about you, Michael, on your end? I'm sure you use volunteers as well.

Michael Reinke:
I would guess that at least 70 percent of our volunteers are over the age of 60. We are seeing dramatic drop offs of volunteers able to make it in for good reason. We want to keep them healthy. You know, I would say that this is a great time for all hands on deck and that if you have people if you have employers who are allowing people to telecommute and maybe have a flexible schedule, that employers might allow their employees to take an hour or two to go and help a local nonprofit. This would be a great time to make that happen, because we don't want our 70 year old volunteers coming in and getting sick. I mean, it is it's a life threatening situation.

Laura Knoy:
So it's time for perhaps younger people, maybe those who aren't in school. College students who are home to step up because the retirees just perhaps should not be out there in the numbers that they were in the past. I got a great e-mail from Kathy who says, Is there any chance that the food from all the restaurants that have had to shut down can be donated to places like Gather or food pantries, or will it all be thrown away? Kathy, this is a great question. And Deb, I'll go to you first at Gather N.H.

Deb Anthony:
Yeah, we actually have been the recipients of some really wonderful food items. And we actually we do some cooking as well to repurpose some of the food that we get. So it's been great and we've gotten, UNH when they closed sent us a whole bunch of wonderful food and I gave them the best green beans we've seen in a long time. So it's been really wonderful and it's sad. I mean, we've reached down to the restaurant community here in Portsmouth and because we know some of those tip workers are gonna be needing our services. So we're we're trying to work together. But the restaurants in our community have been really amazing to us and sending over what they're not going to be able to use them. We're putting out and it's going off our shelves really quickly. So we're very happy that we have that kind of collaboration with them.

Laura Knoy:
So what does the logistics of that, Deb, I would imagine. You know, if a restaurant sends you fresh green beans, they're good for a couple days. But that doesn't last forever.

Deb Anthony:
Right. So while we have we done a fresh market for so long that we have really good sort of refrigerator display cases, and so we're able to maintain stuff pretty, pretty well. And we also do have a cooking program where we have women and men who cook three days a week and they repurpose foods of the green beans around the end of their life. They'll make green bean salad or they'll do some kind of casserole or soup. And so we've worked really hard to reduce food waste. And so we're kind of good at doing that. So the food comes and if we can't put it out in the pantry, it's going to be past date we're going to get it out and cook it in and save it for another day. And it also works really well because we have a refrigerator in our lobby. So it's away from everything else. And a lot of the folks who are homeless in our area know about that. And they come in and they pick food to go and leave. So it kind of help that group of people. And I'm in a really tough time for them as well. So with this kitchen's closing for good reason, they're at least able to access something that they can take back in and eat and maintain their health as much as they can.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Kathy, I love the question because again, this just happened yesterday. The governor saying that, you know, restaurants could only do to go now. Some of them will do fine with that, but some of them will not. Eileen, does that affect you at all?

Eileen Liponis:
The restaurant?

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. The fact that, you know, restaurants, Kathy's question that restaurants are shutting down are seeing a dramatic drop in their patrons. So does that mean a sudden supply of food for you at the food bank or do you guys work more with non-perishable items, you know, dry goods and canned goods and so forth?

Eileen Liponis:
No, we work with everything and we definitely work our working like Gather said, we've already been contacted to receive food from some places that have closed down. It's just a matter of food safety and what we can take, not take.

Laura Knoy:
So you have to be careful that it's, you know, obviously usable and safe and so forth. Now, Michael, you're at a soup kitchen, so I'm guessing that you guys are really good at repurposing donated food quickly.

Michael Reinke:
We we do we get donated food from restaurants all the time. One thing that restaurant your listeners should be aware of if they're not already is that a few years ago, the U.S. Congress passed the Samaritan Act, which means that restaurants are held harmless, they are not held liable if they donate food. There are some restaurants that are concerned if they donate food, that maybe they'd have some legal responsibility if somebody got sick. Congress said you don't have that, that is not a concern. And so I would just encourage anybody who says, boy, I have food supplies I've ordered that I'm not going to be able to use right now, donate them to your local pantry, your local kitchen or the food bank, because that food is needed by people here in New Hampshire right now.

Laura Knoy:
Okay. Well, Kathy, thank you for the email. Eileen, real quick to you. How much have you heard about shortages of food and supplies at other food banks or pantries around the state? You're working statewide with the New Hampshire Food Bank?

Eileen Liponis:
Yes, we are the only food bank in the state. So we're the backbone of charitable food distribution. We're part of the network of Feeding America, 200 food banks throughout the country. And like I said before, the supply chain is strong. We're in a good position by contract. We're required to maintain a healthy inventory. We just happen to be ahead of the ball with us. So we are in a good position. I also want to note that if folks want to find out where they can volunteer or donate food locally, they can go to our Web site and they find food at that tab and pull down there and by county or town, find one of our 425 partner agencies. We have two of our strongest hitters on the phone right now with us, but there's 425 of our partners throughout the state. And you can look on our Web site to find them and either donate food or time there,

Laura Knoy:
Okay, that's great. I'm so glad you mentioned that. And we will put that information on our Web site, too, which is NHPR.org. Coming up, more of your e-mails and we'll hear more about how vulnerable Granite Staters getting the food they need during the coronavirus. And we'll be back in a moment.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. This hour, how Granite Staters who are already food insecure are getting what they need during this time of disruption due to the coronavirus. All of our guests join us remotely. Eileen Liponis, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank. Michael Reinke, executive director of the Nashua Soup Kitchen. And Deb Anthony, executive director of Gather NH. That's a food pantry serving the seacoast. And all of you, got an e-mail before the break from Eric who wants to know whether he should donate. He says he doesn't want to donate to food banks. If you guys are getting a lot of heavy subsidies from the government stimulus package that we talked about earlier from Senator Shaheen. And Michael Reinke, I'll throw that one to you. And Eric, thank you for writing.

Michael Reinke:
I can tell you we are not getting any of these federal stimulus facts. But so, yes. Ninety ninety 90 cents of every dollar donated goes directly into programs here at NSKS. I believe that is the case for just about every pantry. The nice thing is that when you donate, it goes directly to helping people. The other thing I would say is that with our partnership with New Hampshire Food Bank, we are able to get food at a significant discount. I believe Eileen is currently 9 cents a pound, is that right?

Eileen Liponis:
It's going out the door for about five cents, actually, but they cannot buy by contract anything more than 19, we were able to lower design and actually we keep track of what's going on for a nickel.

Michael Reinke:
There you go. So so we can get food for five cents a pound. So if you are interested in donating, donate food if you have it. But if you can make a financial contribution to your local pantry, your local kitchen, do so and do so today.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. And a similar email from Craig and Paul says, yeah, a similar email from Craig in Walpole who says, Are more donations needed now? Craig says, I want to help those facing financial hardships, but I don't want to donate to this segment, Craig says. If the government will be heavily subsidizing food banks, I'm guessing, Deb, that you're not getting heavy subsidies either. But go ahead. And Craig, thank you for the e-mails.

Deb Anthony:
Right. No, we're not. And so you absolutely donate to your local food pantries. And also, I mean, I think it is really worth saying that most of the small food pantries do use the food bank. And so while there may be some subsidies that are going to go out, you know, nationally, I think it's really worth saying that we depend heavily right now. I gather we can't get some of the foods that we want from our usual providers. We can't even buy it. So we can't buy extra carrots right now from, you know, some of the places like Walmart that we've been able to at the moment. And so we have one program contributing. I think it's their supply chains, milk and eggs. We we give everybody milk and eggs. And that's been our commitment for years and it's been so hard to get. And so if it weren't for us being able to work through the food bank and reduce their supply chain, we'd be we'd be a lot less prepared for this than we are. But absolutely. You know, I think, you know, I see the people around here and I think if you have a local food pantry, please support it. I think it's it's so important, an average community and there's not enough out there to be able to reach everyone that we have already. And this is going to last longer than a few weeks. So people are going to be in serious need.

Laura Knoy:
Well, all right. Eric and Craig, thank you for the e-mails. And David wrote in this morning's Concord Monitor listed two people, the owner of Crust and Crumb and a person in Hopkinton who are making and handing out free breakfast and lunch bags for kids. What great people. Oh, David, thank you very much for writing in with something positive. It's good to hear. And you know, we talked earlier about kids and certainly with children out of school for at least three weeks, possibly longer. Deb mentioned earlier her efforts driving around the seacoast, delivering meals to kids. Eileen, you first. How is the New Hampshire Food Bank facilitating kids, getting the breakfast and lunches that they usually get from school?

Eileen Liponis:
Well, we've been working with the New Hampshire GOP closely and here in Manchester. There's a model that I understand was developed in Barrington where they're gonna be using the school bus route system and dropping off meals and homework and picking up homework as well. And that's a model that is really replicating rapidly around the state. We also with the restaurants and the food trust that we are have relationships with. We are in contact with them. And and the New Hampshire DOE if there's an area in need, you know, we may be able to be a site for meal production and then we can deploy out the food truck. So we're all working together to think very creatively. And just to answer, if I may, your funding question earlier. We are a Food Bank of Feeding America. But we received no state or federal funding. We do not have any of those federal contracts. So we are very dependent upon individual foundations and grants and that I feel like we are in a relative position of. Thankfully, we are going to need the funding to stay here and keep those supply chains open so that we can supply debit, Gather and Michael in Nashua.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Yeah. And Michael, Deb mentioned earlier, again, you know, I had that image of her people driving all over the seacoast delivering meals to families whose kids usually get meals from school. Now, what about you at the Nashua Soup Kitchen? Is that something that you guys do or are you more, we've got the food here, but you folks need to come get it. Recognizing that, you know, you may have limited capacity.

Michael Reinke:
Right. So over the last couple of years, our model has evolved. We have started doing a mobile pantry, one of the elementary schools here in Nashua. I believe it as of this Friday, we're going to be working on a new partnership where we are going to go up to this food bank. And I believe we've ordered about 700 pounds of fresh produce. We're gonna bring it down here. And then the Boys and Girls Club is going to take their vans and bring it to the locations where the next school district is providing bag lunches. And we're gonna set up mobile pantries and all of those locations so that parents can come in and make sure that their kids, in addition to having a sandwich and an energy bar, also have fresh fruits and vegetables because we want to keep our kids healthy and strong. And I believe the United Way is recruiting volunteers to actually person those tables so that when people come up, they can get the vegetables and the produce that they need and also make sure that there are some available for everybody who comes up.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Really interesting. All of you mentioned, you know, concerns around your staff trying to keep your staff safe. Deb, to you first as you make those deliveries to families that you mentioned earlier, and that's great. How is your staff being instructed to actually hand out those foods?

Deb Anthony:
So we are doing all the know best practices and we have had more bleach buckets around than you can imagine. But we all know our gloves and masks and we know that, you know, people say, well, the math doesn't protect you, but we're offering every volunteer and saying, you know, we're often not. We have some volunteers who are let us know that they just came back from travel. If anyone's come in from a level two, a level three country we asking that they take two weeks off from us. And so we're trying to be really cognizant of keeping the contact with people as limited as possible. So in the outdoor market, it's definitely more of a handoff. And here's the ingredients and you grab your bags and you go, to we're having less contact and more we're using the bodies to get the food onto the tables so that the families can come up again. And again, we're trying to stagger the lines so people are not climbing, you know, clustered in the line. And we have more people actually controlling the lines than we do people controlling the handing out of the food.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Yeah. As you told us earlier, your food pantry you're only allowing two people in at a time. Yeah, go ahead.

Deb Anthony:
So, I mean, I think it's we we put out to everyone, including the people that night staff. And if you cannot come in, if you have a preexisting, if you don't feel comfortable doing it, please do not. And we're paying our staff through that if they're out. And then, you know, otherwise, we're just hoping that everybody continues to do the best practices and we're trying to role model that for everyone that comes and volunteers and works with us. And so far, we've been pretty lucky that people have responded and amazing ways to the call for help.

Laura Knoy:
You know, Michael, and ask about your staff, too. You know, we're all being told to work remotely. Some of us can. But, you know, you can't make a meal remotely. At some point you have to be there making it. So how are you sort of managing that?

Michael Reinke:
We are we are one of the organizations that, you know, you can't do this work from home. So, I mean, some of our staff we can. Some of the staff that are not involved in direct provision of service, we can say work remotely. But that's very few in number. So we are again asking we do it, provide sick leave here at the national soup kitchen and shelter. And so we're saying if you're sick, stay home. And and again, we really need people who are under the age of 60. Laura, you mentioned college students who may be home. Great population. This is a great opportunity. We have over a thousand volunteers at our organization over the course of any given year. It's likely even more than that. And and we need our staff kind of sets things up, says, hey, this is what you need to do. It's the volunteers who actually get it done.

Laura Knoy:
Well, really interesting. And Eileen, I wonder if you have seen yet a jump in demand. Now, it's still relatively early in terms of seeing some of the economic impacts, but I wonder if you expect to see a jump in demand Eileen for food from the New Hampshire Food Bank and all your partners as people are out of work for an extended period of time. I'm just wondering what you're expecting for Granite Staters who will need food assistance?

Eileen Liponis:
We are expecting an increase in demand that will be put on our agencies, like I said, we're the backbone, there are soldiers in the field and we're looking to fund that continued need. We're feeling the first wave is really going to be the the workers that are hit from the food service and hospitality industry. Some of them, you know, they may already be clients of our agencies and aware, but we also want to make them aware of SNAP benefits. So we're gonna be sending out to our agencies what the eligibility requirements are for SNAP. So some of those people may apply to that. We also have a SNAP outline so that folks can call us are having trouble filling out the application. So we're, those are the first, that's the first wave of what we're anticipating. The hospitality and food service workers are going to be impacted and they're going to be drawing upon our agencies and they're also going to be increasing their SNAP participation.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, SNAP again being food stamps. And I do wonder about, you know, waitresses who rely on tips and so forth. Some food workers will be able to make, you know, meals to go, but there will be a lot of people who are affected. You're absolutely right. Eileen, one listener who filled out our survey at NHPR.org Says, I am an independent, self-employed massage therapist who is currently unemployed due to the pandemic. And I fear I will be put out of business soon. I have no insurance benefits or or alternative sources of income. So that's someone who really is incredibly economically vulnerable. Once the clients dry up, that's kind of it. I wonder what kind of increase in demand. Deb Anthony, you're anticipating at Gather NH.

Deb Anthony:
We're seeing, interestingly, a lot of new people just in the past two days and we're only well, at 10 o'clock this morning almost. So I think we're going to see a pretty significant impact. And we're a little we're a little nervous about meals for kids because we usually we post on social media, we contact people through texting and let them know where we're going to be. And we had a post that we put up with 10000 shares and we're thinking, oh, my gosh, they can't all come at once. So I think it's going to be it's going to be a struggle for all of us. But you know, at the same time, we just keep trying to tell people when they come in and only take what they know they can use and to be really thoughtful about the next person coming in. And I have to say, I have just been incredibly proud of the members that we have here. And we talked about that at our staff meeting yesterday. And I think, you know, I know these are scary times, but here's the reality. There's a whole lot of people with money going out and stockpiling in their homes because we're scared and we're stressed. I have more toilet paper than I need. But, you know, our folks don't have the money to do that. And they still want to have extra food. And we need to make sure that we treat them with the dignity that we always have and that we understand that they're going to be acting out of fear as well. So it's you know, I think it's it's going to be interesting. And we have I unfortunately think we have a long way to go with this.

Laura Knoy:
Another listener said, after I pay rent next week, I will have nine dollars. Wow. And some food stamps because I am on a fixed income. Time to pray, this listener says, not panic and to get creative. Thank you to that person for writing in. And wow the best of luck to you and to all of you. But I think you first. Michael Reinke, what do you want from the state government or the federal government? What sort of action or support would you like to see to help you out at the Nashua Soup Kitchen?

Michael Reinke:
Well, I think that what we're calling on the state government and the federal government do is provide extra funding to help us with this crisis. So if we're doing meals to go, oh, that's a lot. That's a very different model. And it means we have additional expenses in terms of getting those meals prepared.

Laura Knoy:
Sure, boxes and bags and wrappings and so forth. Yeah.

Michael Reinke:
And at our shelters, you know, for example, one best practice is to have curtains around the bunk beds so that, you know, people are less likely to spread an illness. Well, we'd have to we have to go out and get those curved curtains. So funding for things like that, for additional staff, it takes to be able to go out to where the kids are, those kinds of things. This is an emergency. This is what we prepare for. That's what our public sector is out there to do, to make sure in emergencies that we're OK.

Laura Knoy:
What do you think, Eileen? What do you want from the state or federal governments?

Eileen Liponis:
I kind of go back to what what the what the cause of hunger is, and it's poverty. And so if folks are going to be experiencing increased levels of poverty to some extent, that I don't know how else to put it. But, you know, I think that what they're doing now and we've been in touch with our legislative representatives, you know, they're looking to extend welfare, extend unemployment benefits and do everything that they can for employers to support their employees. I think they are doing what we need them to do. And together, if we all pull together and volunteer with these agencies and we, the fund's going to keep the food going to these agencies, we're gonna get through this. It's just a matter of months. And working together and practicing safe distance thing. And I think that, you know, if they continue to reinforce that message, we really can keep the larger effectiveness at bay if we all work together.

Laura Knoy:
Michael, did I hear you want to jump in there?

Michael Reinke:
Well, just one more thing. What makes Americans Americans what makes the US great is our ingenuity, our willingness to come together and help each other. This is the time to make that happen. You know, there was an article in New York Times about when an earthquake hit Alaska in 1964. People came together. They said, this is in front of us. Let's figure out a way to help. This is the time when we need to come together as a people and say, let's be creative and let's figure out how to address this problem.

Laura Knoy:
And lastly to you, Deb Anthony, what do you want to see from the state government? From the federal government?

Deb Anthony:
You know, I'm hoping that the responses in terms of, you know, trying to tackle the poverty. Well, in know what's happening with poverty and ensuring that people have access to food stamps and have access to funds if they need them and whatever emergency packages they can put together. And then on top of that, I reach out to the community and say, you know, yesterday people were just randomly donating to Gather online. And I think, you know, I hope that the local community can do that because we desperately need it. And I hope that the state and federal folks really look at what the people in poverty are going through and figure out a way to keep them out of poverty at desperate levels. So.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, and if anyone listening is inspired to help out, to donate or volunteer, lots of links on our Web site, NHPr.org slash exchange. Good luck to all of you. Eileen Liponis, Michael Reinke, Deb Anthony, thank you very much for being with us tonight. My best wishes to you for the weeks ahead. I really appreciate you being with us today.

Michael Reinke:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
The Exchange is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.