Lee Eastbourne is executive director of the Jonnycake Center in Westerly, which operates its own food pantry. He spoke with The Public’s Radio South County Reporter Alex Nunes about the situation. 

[You can find a food pantry near you in Rhode Island at https://rifoodbank.org/find-food/ and in Massachusetts at https://www.mass.gov/how-to/find-a-local-food-bank . See more of our coronavirus coverage, including community resources and personal stories.]

NUNES: How are things running right now at the Jonnycake Center in Westerly?

EASTBOURNE: We’re seeing our regular flow of clients, our current clients. We have seen a small increase of flow in new individuals. We expect, as this pandemic continues to grow and evolve, that the need will increase over the coming weeks or months or so.

NUNES: The state of Rhode Island has been receiving thousands of unemployment claims each day. Are you expecting to see a big surge because of that?

EASTBOURNE: Yes. The short answer is absolutely. As individuals are either being temporarily laid off or furloughed, usually that spike comes a couple of weeks later. So the next two weeks to a month or so—it will be a critical time for us.

NUNES: Is there some concern that people won’t be able to meet that need, that there won’t be enough food?

EASTBOURNE: Everyone seems to be coping pretty well so far. That is a concern for us, as we continue to move forward. We have a wonderful relationship with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Everything has been running as normal at this point, but there is a little concern that things may change in the coming weeks or so.

NUNES: This is a stressful time for everyone, but a lot of people have the means to go shopping for themselves and stock up on food. I’m imagining that there must be an added level of stress for someone living with the uncertainty of knowing that they need to rely on these services to meet their basic food needs. Is that something that you see at the food pantry?

EASTBOURNE: The population we serve are low and moderate income individuals in Westerly and Charlestown, Richmond, and Hopkinton, and generally that population don’t have one singular issue in their life. It may be a combination of three or four issues—some mental health issues, homelessness issues, addiction or alcoholism issues. So there’s absolutely a greater level of stress and anxiety in those households, and centers like the Jonnycake Center of Westerly are really working hard—boots on the ground type thing—trying to address all of those needs of a particularly family or household.

NUNES: The Jonnycake Center gets more than 50 percent of its revenue from a thrift store on site that you’ve had to close because of concerns of people picking up the coronavirus there. What kind of impact is that having on your organization?

EASTBOURNE: Yeah, that’s correct. We operate at about $1.5 million annually, just about $800,000 of the operating revenue on the income side is made through our onsite thrift store. We’re generally open seven day a week. We do around about 2,000 transactions a week, which translates to about $15,000 to $18,000 of income from the store on a weekly basis. We’re certainly seeing a financial hit on that side of things. 

NUNES: I’m sure a lot of people listening would want to know how they could help. What would you say to someone?

EASTBOURNE: Specific donations to the food assistance program are huge at this point and would be very gratefully received. The great thing about our relationship with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank is our buying power and our ability to buy at volume and at discount. So just to give listeners and idea: just a single dollar of donation to the center allows the Jonnycake Center to purchase about 10 lbs. of food. So our cost of food purchase is roughly 10 cents per pound, which gives us a huge amount of opportunity to purchase a huge amount of food at a very, very small dollar figure. Our website address is jonnycake.org, and there is a donate button at the very top of the page there.

NUNES: Lee Eastbourne, executive director of the Jonnycake Center in Westerly, thanks so much for speaking with me.

EASTBOURNE: Thank you so much for your time, Alex. I appreciate you taking the time to chat. 

[If you have a story you'd like to share about your experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, email Alex Nunes at anunes@thepublicsradio.org]