MOORHEAD — The coronavirus pandemic is changing how food pantries deliver food to area families, and an event held here Tuesday night, March 24, showed just how difficult that job has become.

A nonprofit group called Ruby's Pantry teams with community partners across Minnesota and Wisconsin to provide households with food. In Moorhead, that effort has taken place once a month at Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

Because the building has essentially been closed to the public because of virus concerns, for Tuesday's event, organizers decided to conduct a drive-thru event using the parking lot of the Moorhead Center Mall, where Moorhead City Hall is located.

The monthly distribution usually provides food to about 300 households with help from about 60 volunteers, according to Michelle Webber, minister at Moorhead's First Congregational United Church of Christ, a local partner with Ruby's Pantry that helps make the Moorhead event happen.

Webber said because organizers wanted to follow social distancing guidelines, just 10 volunteers were there Tuesday. And because those workers had to remain at least 6 feet from each other, the unloading of food from a large truck and the distribution of it to people took much longer than usual, according to Webber.

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"It was a rough night," she said, adding that because of traffic issues created by lines of vehicles waiting for food and the time the process took, some people had to be turned away without receiving aid.

Webber said she was nonetheless grateful for the event because it meant households received food they otherwise may not have, though the hurdles experienced Tuesday raised questions about future deliveries.

"In today's world, we really can't predict what tomorrow's going to be like, let alone what a month from now is going to be like," Webber said.

Wednesday afternoon, a posting appeared on the Facebook page for Ruby's Pantry Moorhead, stating that until social distancing restrictions are lifted, future events were in doubt.

Coronavirus concerns are also changing the way food is distributed by the Emergency Food Pantry, 1101 Fourth Ave. N., in Fargo.

In the past, people arriving at the pantry would check in with workers and then pick out the food items they wanted. Now, people are asked to check in when they arrive and then wait outside while workers prepare a package of food based on a family's size. The food is then brought to people waiting outside, according to Stacie Loegering, the pantry's executive director.

Loegering said the pantry is seeing more families looking for help, in some cases because of layoffs caused by businesses closing down, or limiting what they may offer.

She said the Emergency Food Pantry was continuing to look for ways to keep workers and clients safe, and as part of that effort the pantry was changing its hours going forward.

Starting Thursday, March 26, the pantry's morning hours will be 10-11:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday. Afternoon hours will be 1:30-3:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

At the Fargo-Moorhead Salvation Army, 304 Roberts St. N., Fargo, daily meals are no longer being served inside the service center, but they are being made available as takeout meals.

The Salvation Army will continue to provide individuals with breakfast and lunch, Mondays through Fridays, from 8-9 a.m. and from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and on Sundays from 5-6 p.m.

Contact between Salvation Army staff and the public has been sharply curtailed, though staff will be available by phone to help people with referrals or applications involving housing or utility needs.

"We are committed to serving as many people as possible in the safest way possible, now and well into the future," said Lt. Col. Lonneal Richardson, commander of the Salvation Army Northern Division.

Moorhead Mayor Johnathan Judd, who helped organize the Ruby's Pantry event this week, said on Wednesday that he drove to the Moorhead Center Mall Tuesday night intending only to check on how the event was going, but when he saw the difficulties volunteers were dealing with, he ended up jumping in to help.

He said at one point the line of vehicles waiting for food extended from the Moorhead Center Mall parking lot to the Taco John's restaurant, about a block or two away.

"The lesson learned is, if we're going to do this moving forward, is that the right location? Or do we find another location?" Judd said.

At a Wednesday morning briefing held by local leaders to update the public on coronavirus matters, Judd said that starting Monday, March 30, MATBUS would begin helping with Meals On Wheels deliveries in the area. MATBUS is the public transportation system serving Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead and Dilworth.

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