St. Margaret's House Provides Meals To Homeless And Low-Income Families Despite Pandemic

Mar 19, 2020

St. Margaret's House Executive Director Kathy Schneider helps serve food to South Bend resident Donna King and other women throughout the day, despite the COVID-19 pandemic on March 19th, 2020.
Credit Annacaroline Caruso / WVPE Public Radio

The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on nearly every aspect of life. Everything from the way people socialize, to job security, and the economy. There are certain challenges the virus is creating, specifically for the homeless and low-income families.

It's lunchtime at St. Margaret’s House in South Bend. Workers are serving barbecue pulled pork sandwiches and baked beans.

Women walk past tables of food; fruit, pretzel bread, and even whole pies. But they make sure not to touch the food. Some have a hard time remembering that new rule.

St. Margaret’s House provides meals to women and children struggling with poverty. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, people would gather inside to eat their meals together. That’s all changed now. St. Margaret’s serves food outside in a take-out style to avoid spreading the virus.

Linda Gammage has been struggling with poverty for many years. She said if charities like St. Margaret’s House closed its doors completely, she would have a hard time finding food, especially now.

“Juice is a luxury. Milk is needed. We are so grateful that St. Margaret’s is open.”

St. Margaret’s has juice, milk, and other food that Gammage needs to feed her children who are now home 24/7 since schools closed.

 Samantha Peck is the kitchen manager at St. Margaret’s. She said food should be the last thing someone  needs to worry about during a crisis.

“The people we serve are most vulnerable. So we need to focus on staying open, staying able to perform nutrition. At this time, nutrition is so important. Being able to get a good meal in could boost somebody’s immune system just that little bit extra.”

Staying healthy during this time is something that concerns practically everyone, including Teresa Anderson. She has a compromised immune system.

“I’m terrified. I’m out of masks currently. I’ve decided not to buy a two week bus pass that I normally buy. I’m not supposed to be doing certain things but I’m walking to and from St. Margaret’s”

Anderson and roughly 60 other women still make it to St. Margaret’s House each day to get a hot meal, even during the pandemic.

Kathy Schneider is the executive director of St. Margaret’s House. She said they’ll work to keep providing meals for as long as possible.

“We’re not sure how long we can do this. If one of us comes down with this I’m sure we’re all going to have to self-quarantine. But as long as we can stay healthy we’re going to try and keep our doors open.”

Schneider recognized the challenges everyone is facing right now, but said people struggling with poverty and homelessness are facing those challenges tenfold.

“When they say to quarantine, to shelter in place, they have no place to shelter and that’s the problem.”

Schdeider is right. Recommended practices for slowing the spread of COVID-19 are to stay at home and social distance. But that’s not possible for someone who has nowhere to go. Schneider said this makes it hard to contain the virus.

“We have this mobile group of people who could become infected at any time and they’re kind of moving together and that makes them vulnerable. A lot of those people have health issues already. So catching the virus for them is very dangerous.”

Schneider suggested a solution. Have one place for the homeless to go for all their needs and one place where they can self-quarantine if they get sick. South Bend Mayor James Mueller is discussing this idea with city council.

“We are exploring with homeless service providers, the ability to separate those who come down with the coronavirus and those who don’t to make sure it doesn't spread throughout the community.”

The entire community is feeling the effects of COVID-19 and officials are trying to come up with the best solutions. Schneider said until then, St. Margaret’s house will keep serving meals.

Contact Annacaroline at acaruso@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @AnnacarolineC16

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