Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Stephani Womack places a box of noodles in a box during the Gratefull event in Burr Park in downtown Dalton on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. The event began in 2019 as a city-wide free Thanksgiving meal but with COVID-19 precautions, the 2020 version became a food drive with the collected food going to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.

Jens Christensen, CEO of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, said Wednesday that the organization is working to offer its regular holiday meal while maintaining safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"We will be serving individuals because they are homeless, hungry and vulnerable, even on days when the virus is not attacking," he said.

Christensen said the kitchen will require masks for everyone in the building and encourage carry-out dining during the 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. meal time.

"We are definitely welcoming volunteers tomorrow and we'll probably get a number of them," he said Wednesday. "We are providing [personal protective equipment] and all the necessary things, including barriers they will be working behind.

"Volunteers are essential to what we do."

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Chattanooga food banks, volunteers adjust to COVID-19 on ahead of Thanksgiving

Jennifer Lockwood, grants manager and assistant to the president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, said the typical holiday bump of increased need for food is even more pronounced this year with the ongoing effects of joblessness and lost income caused by the pandemic.

In typical years, the food bank would serve around 50 clients a day before the holidays and that number would increase to around 75 during holidays, Lockwood said. The food bank is now seeing around 135 clients a day, she said.

Volunteers are needed, too. With social distancing, the food bank can use 18 people a day to sort and distribute food, but the organization rarely has that many people, Lockwood said. Even the holidays, a time when many would normally increase charity efforts, have not brought the typical increase of volunteers.

"I think people are being more cautious," Lockwood said. "We are not seeing the turnout that we normally see over the holidays. We are not seeing the corporate groups that are coming in and volunteering. Some employers are not allowing that. We would typically see families coming in and volunteering and we are not seeing that because people are staying home."

The food bank saw a decline in donations from retail stores early in the pandemic but donations are increasing, Lockwood said. The organization can also use cash donations to purchase discounted food through Feeding America.

"We're seeing more funds being donated, which is great because as a member of Feeding America we can leverage the dollar a little more to feed four people," Lockwood said.

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