May 1, 2020

Local Kiwanis club to help restock TOPSS pantry

Tuna fish, toilet paper and peanut butter are the three items most needed at the TOPSS food pantry in Oxford, according to the pantry staff.

The Kiwanis Club of Oxford has taken on the task of helping to resupply TOPSS, (Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services). The Kiwanis are putting on a food drive that is going to take place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, May 7, at the TOPSS pantry, 400 W. Withrow St., Oxford. May 7th.

All members of Kiwanis were tasked to ask 10 friends each to provide the tuna, TP and peanut butter. The Kiwanis sent out a letter to their 10 friends that highlighted the details of the drive. Donors can drop off the items at the pantry in a no-contact delivery. Kiwanis members will be outside the pantry. Donors can put the items on the ground outside their car and drive away. The Kiwanis members will then pick them up and take them inside.

People can also drop off their items to the Kiwanis members’ homes, which they have provided to the friends that they sent the letters to. Additionally, they can call and the Kiwanis member will come by and get the items from their door. This pickup system will be working all day May 5 and 6, and until noon May 7.

Jennifer Marston is a current member of Kiwanis. “We have been asked to ask 10 friends to provide three items,” Marston said. “Just those three items because those are in need and in demand right now.” Those items will then be distributed to TOPSS.

“People generally go into the pantry themselves, but with everything going on they are just asking people to drop things off,” Marston said. “But, they are asking people to call the pantry and let them know that they are coming so that the items can be collected.”

For the drive May 7, the Kiwanis members who are collecting the items will be wearing gloves and masks. “There are about 50 members of Kiwanis,” Marston said. “So, we are hoping that with every member asking 10 people, around 500 people will be aware.”

The Kiwanis traditionally conduct a large food drive for local charities in November. The hope is the pandemic restrictions will be lifted by then and the drive will operate normally. The Annual Kiwanis Pancake Day, a major fundraiser for the service organization, was canceled this spring because of the virus.

“We are so sad to cancel the Annual Kiwanis Pancake Day- it is the right move given the COVID-19 virus and all the uncertainty it has created,” the Kiwanis Club said in a statement. “Pancake Day is the main fundraiser supporting many services to the kids in our community and without it, we will have to cut back.”

“We are working with the school district to provide food all summer long,” said Marston, who will be in charge of the November food drive.  “Usually they would stop providing lunches, but this year they have been able to provide for the entire season.” Kiwanis is responsible for many food drives and they have been able to get tons of food during this time for people who are in need.

Additionally, as students prepare to move out of their off-campus apartments permanently, they are encouraged to contact the pantry if they have any food items they plan on getting rid of.

Ann Fuehrer, the executive director of TOPSS, said they typically have 280 visitors per month, this month they will likely have 350 visits.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, the pantry's service changed some of its procedures. In the past, the TOPSS would have volunteers accompany customers as they shop for free.  This would allow customers to choose foods from different food groups based on their nutritional needs and cultural practices.  As of the middle of March, the TOPSS has delivered pre-packed boxes to customers in their homes. They are doing this because people are requested to stay in their homes, and it is easier to maintain six feet of physical distance if they place bags of groceries on people's porches or doorsteps.  Unfortunately, it eliminates people's choice, but it is safer this way. There are still new people who come to the TOPSS building but pantry workers take groceries to their vehicles, again maintaining six feet of physical distance.

According to Fuehrer, most of the volunteers who worked with them left once the pandemic started, including Miami students who have moved back home and older community members or community members who have medically-vulnerable family members.  “About 10 have remained," Fuehrer said. " We have about a dozen new volunteers, including three of our customers, people who feel safe to volunteer and who volunteer at least once a week, if not more frequently”.

For the sake of safety, volunteers for TOPSS wear masks and gloves.

“We will be moving to a new, temporary location within the next three weeks, and will hope to have a grand opening mid-summer,” Fuehrer said of the upcoming event.

According to a statement from Fuehrer, TOPSS has raised $29,121.88 in donations from individuals and organizations. Miami University’s Athletic Department also donated $3,700.

“A big thank you to the Butler County Regional Transportation Authority whose drivers are helping us make deliveries of food boxes to our customers.” Fuehrer said in the most recent statement on TOPPS’ official website.

Food and personal item donations are received at the pantry, 400. W. Withrow St , Monday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. If you would like to volunteer to date and sort the donations, pack boxes, or deliver boxes to customers, you can email the director at director@topss.org.