To bolster COVID-19-related food shortages, a $5,000 donation was awarded to area food banks by the Pacific-based team of Graphic Packaging International, LLC.

Second Blessings Food Pantry’s Becki Gillihan received the check on behalf of the group Thursday, May 7, from the following local Graphic Packaging representatives: Laura Arand, plant manager; Mike Eschbacher, human resources manager; Perry Rollins, team lead for the printing department; and Glenn Gawer, team lead for the finishing department.

Graphic Packaging International is a leading provider of innovative paper-based packaging solutions for food, beverage, foodservice, household, personal care and pet care products.

The company operates from 80 facilities and with more than 19,000 employees across the globe.

As a manufacturer of consumer products, Graphic Packaging staffs found their services even more critically needed during this coronavirus crisis and began to take extra steps to keep people fed and protected.

For example, the Graphic Packaging facility at 1101 S. Denton Road in Pacific is hiring new personnel, such as hourly employees, customer advocates and a production supervisor, to maintain maximum capacity for the current food supply demands.

Eschbacher said the packaging company donated $5,000 to a food bank in each of the communities that the business operates around the world — for a total of $500,000 — to ensure food banks can continue to serve people in need.

“We cannot express enough the gratitude we all have for this generous donation, and with it, we will be able to help the many in need here in Franklin County,” said Gillihan, on behalf of the Union-based food pantry.

In addition to the Franklin County Hunger Task Force, this financial donation will be divided among the following four food pantries — Second Blessings, St. Clair Catholic Services, Tri-Pantry Leslie and Gerald Community Outreach.

Working through all volunteers, Second Blessings provides food assistance to anyone in Franklin County.

St. Clair Catholic Services provides assistance to Franklin County residents for food, rent, utilities and prescriptions.

Tri-Pantry Leslie also offers residents food and utility assistance in addition to emergency aid.

Gerald Community Outreach also supplies food, emergency rent, utilities and prescription assistance to Gerald residents.

Stephanie Norton, Franklin County Emergency Management Agency deputy director, works with the Franklin County Hunger Task Force through Franklin County service providers and their representative agency, Jefferson-Franklin Community Action Corporation.

“When I was asked for a recommendation for a $5,000 donation to a charity in Franklin County, the Hunger Task Force was my first thought, as it serves the greatest number of citizens and covers the entire county,” said Norton. “The group is made up of representatives from any food pantry that wishes to participate.  They work together to take some of the burden from one another.”

She said an example of that teamwork is one food pantry group who owns a box truck, and whose volunteer travels to St. Louis once a week to pick up a truckload of bread. The truck returns to a drop-off point in Franklin County and Hunger Task Force-affiliated pantries pick up their weekly bread supply.

“This prevents the need for all the food pantries to use a volunteer and gas expense to travel to St. Louis,” she added.

Norton said the recent unemployment rise and school closings due to COVID-19 resulted in a spiked need for food pantry services in Franklin County.

“While many public school districts began to distribute food to their students after the closures, many are finding this project difficult to maintain and are stopping the service,” she said. “People who have never sought food pantry services, or housing or utility assistance in the past, are reaching out for help to provide for their families.”

Due to a higher risk of COVID-19 infection among older adults, Norton said many volunteers on whom the food pantries rely have stepped down to protect their own health.

The process each pantry uses to serve clients also has changed due to curbside distribution, Norton said.

“Food pantries and food banks are experiencing a difficult time with an ever-growing concern for adequate food to meet the intensified need,” she stated.