BURLINGTON — The Spirit of Alamance Food Drive brought lines of cars, laden with canned produce and easy-to-cook food, down the streets of Burlington on Thursday.

Donations from the drive, sponsored by United Way of Alamance County, will go to the three food pantries most affected by COVID-19 — The Salvation Army, DreamAlign and Southern Alamance Family Empowerment.

“We knew these food pantries were struggling to meet the needs of all the people wanting food because of the pandemic. We wanted to be an active help to that problem,” said Sally Gordon, community impact coordinator at United Way.

Nearly 130 cars came through during the seven-hour food drive, dropping off more than 3,200 items, primarily canned goods and other non-perishables.

Donations were picked up by the pantries on Friday and will be handed out to community members early next week.

“Access to food has been really hard for people right now,” said Lynn Pierce, executive director of SAFE. “We want to get the donations distributed out fast because people need it. The food might be with us for one or two days, but then it’s right out the door back into the community.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, local food pantries in Alamance County have been struggling to meet the food demands of local residents. Pierce has seen hundreds more families and individuals requesting food from SAFE than usual.

In the past, SAFE and the two other pantries benefiting from United Way’s drive participated in the annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive. According to Pierce, the donations from that event could keep her pantry stocked for more than two months. But because of the pandemic the drive has been put off and an alternative date has not been announced.

“To have that drive postponed has been devastating,” Pierce said. “This pandemic has thrown every pantry in the state into a whirlwind. But we’re so grateful to everyone from United Way and the community. Alamance has really stepped up since COVID, and I have full confidence that our pantries will get back up to capacity.”

Locals driving by to donate food didn’t even need to unbuckle their seat belts. More than 20 masked volunteers staffing the food drive unloaded cars.

Burlington’s Mary Anne Butler, who came by with several bags of canned goods, said she was grateful for the safety measures and the chance to donate.

“I’m so glad there is a way we can help,” Butler said. “We don’t know what to do most of the time, so it feels good to finally have the chance to help out.”

In mid-March, Alamance’s Emergency Operations Center picked United Way to be the county’s feeding coordinator.

The NC News Intern Corps is a program of the NC Local News Workshop, funded by the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund and housed at Elon University’s School of Communications.

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