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Helping hands before and during pandemic

Helpers at the Durham Community Food Pantry stand ready to load food and other supplies into vehicles at Lakewood Shopping Plaza last week.

By Sho Hatakeyama

Nearly a year into the pandemic, Durham Community Food Pantry volunteers and staff deliver provide food and more to 150 or more families every week.

Helpers sort and bag bananas, sweet potatoes and more produce before loading them into delivery baskets

Before the pandemic, about 100 families received aid weekly, said David Juarez Torres, the pantry’s program director.

But after last March, demand swelled, peaking at sometimes more than 200 people a week during the November and December holiday season, he said.

Cameron Morgan, the pantry’s assistant program director, moves frozen food out of a freezer.

Not visible from the Lakewood Shopping Plaza parking lot outside the pantry is the work it takes inside to prepare efficient hand overs.

Men, women and teenagers in masks last Wednesday bundled apples, sweet potatoes, canned and packaged foods, paper products, books, even birthday cakes for people waiting outside.

Volunteers greet people visiting the food pantry and collect information on their needs.

At the start of the pandemic, the pantry lost nearly all its volunteers, Torres said. People stayed home to avoid exposure to the new coronavirus.

Since then, the number of volunteers has grown, allowing the pantry to open more days per week and help five times the number of people it served before March 2020, Torres said.

Getting food and other essential goods to people in need requires many hands.

Along with wholesale vendors, non-profit groups keep the pantry supplied, including the The InterFaith Food Shuttle, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

Churches and community groups hold food drives to help out too.

Volunteers stock up a car trunk with food and essential goods.

People can obtain food and the rest from the pantry once a month. Distribution hours are Wednesday and Thursday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

9th Street photographer Sho Hatakeyama can be reached at

This story was modified to correct when demand at the pantry was highest last year, and when it distributes food and other goods each week.