While multiple vaccines for COVID-19 have been approved and made their way around the country, some organizations are still operating with limitations and restrictions meant to protect the health and safety of their employees, volunteers and beneficiaries.

When the pandemic first hit the area, Good Samaritan of Tullahoma closed its doors for around two months. With a ministry office, a food pantry and a thrift store to run, Director Cindy Kinney also made the difficult decision to cut back on hours in order to conserve resources. The food pantry is manned by primarily older volunteers, she said, so they were required to stay home for their own safety.

During the time when no one knew what to expect, Kinney said the ministry – staffed by herself and two other employees – continued to provide food assistance to those who needed it. Extra precautions were taken whenever food assistance was given, she added.

“Food was given to our food clients in prepackaged bags and when they came to pick up, we added a bag of perishable items,” she said. “When a client came to pick up food, they were instructed to stand back. We sat their food down and we when we walked away, the client would pick up their food.”

All CDC guidelines were followed, even as the guidelines were altered and changed as more information became available as to the transmission of COVID-19. Kinney said all employees wore masks and gloves and stayed socially distanced while interacting with people and then wiped down high-touch areas after each interaction.

Kinney said she even implemented strict guidelines for all of Good Samaritan in March, from the ministry workers to the pantry workers and volunteers to the Thrift Store and Shed workers and volunteers. All the guidelines lined up with CDC guidance and what was being observed in grocery stores.

“We ordered and installed plexi-glass dividers for the ministry desk area and the thrift store cash register area,” she said.

Financial assistance was paused for about six weeks, Kinney said, during the time when person-to-person interaction was even more frowned upon than it currently is.

The pandemic definitely changed the lives of the volunteers and others, she added, with many of the older volunteers taking time away from the organization due to their high-risk status.

“We hope if and when the virus passes they will return,” Kinney said.

The food and financial assistance organization also took a financial hit, as many of the functions and fundraisers the organization puts on throughout the year were canceled as the spread of the virus ravaged the area.

COVID restrictions were also implemented at the local Salvation Army office. According to Coffee County Salvation Army Treasurer Pam Bussell, all walk-in traffic was closed in April, though the organization has continued to assist people in need through appointments. Even in 2021, walk-in assistance is not given, Bussell said.

“We closed our doors to walk-ins in April 2020, but we have continued to assist those in need with food and financial assistance by appointment only,” she told The Tullahoma News. “We are not sure when our doors will again be open to walk-in traffic.”

The Salvation Army assists Tullahoma city residents with food and Coffee County residents with financial needs, Bussell said.

As the pandemic continues into the new year, both organizations have kept with their alternated operations.

According to Bussell, the intake process for the Salvation Army has changed.

“We now get all information, including account numbers and the amount of the bill for financial assistance, over the phone,” she said. Once all the necessary information is gathered, a volunteer with the organization prepares their voucher ahead of time to ensure no physical contact takes place.

As of right now, Bussell said, the Salvation Army has two volunteers who regularly come in to help prepare food boxes and assist clients. There are also still reduced office hours at the Salvation Army office, housed in the First Christian Church Annex building at the corner of Atlantic and Grundy streets.

Those needing any food or financial assistance are encouraged to contact the office by phone at 455-2200 and leave a message. Someone will return their call as soon as possible, Bussell said.

Good Sam took its cues from other local businesses that offered similar services to it, Kinney said.

“When we did reopen the Good Sam thrift store, we did as much as the grocery stores had done,” she said. Those alterations included strongly advising customers to wear face coverings and practice social distancing, adding directional arrows and keeping hand sanitizer at the checkout areas and wiping down shopping carts throughout the day.

The Good Sam food pantry also followed the CDC guidelines, she said, as well as back room sorters and shed workers.

These days, Kinney said, the majority of those things are still in effect.

“We still advise facial coverings, social distancing, the use of hand sanitizer and wiping down the shopping carts,” she said.

Overall, Kinney said, while the year was difficult, she is pleased that the organization that means so much to her has “survived” the current pandemic.

“The past year has been difficult, but Good Samaritan survived, and we pray 2021 will bring good health and normalcy,” she said.

Anyone needing assistance from Good Samaritan of Tullahoma can call the ministry at 455-7353 or the thrift store at 393-3626.

Staff Writer

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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