As early reports of the coronavirus signaled the potential for serious concern, Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann gathered his emergency preparedness team. Top of mind for the nonprofit was how to keep a staff of 240, plus scores of volunteers, safe while they operated three soup kitchens, a food pantry, a health clinic and two homeless shelters with a combined 64 beds. “Watching what was happening in February on the West Coast was our moment of truth,” Swann recalls. “We host 325 people for dinner in small dining room—we need to keep them safe.”
The team decided to focus on new ways they could deliver support at a greater scale and for an indefinite amount of time. They started by restructuring their Food Programs to serve all meals to-go, preparing and packaging 1,200 meals a day that were distributed from their Soup Kitchen door and to various area shelters. They then increased their Food Pantry from weekly to daily service, going from serving 140 families each week to 500.