When the Stone Church serves its weekly Neighborhood Dinner Wednesday evening, it will have a different look.


Instead of the sit-down meal that has been a weekly fixture at the Independence church for 11 years, those who need the meal can pick up a sack dinner to take home each Wednesday, starting at 6 p.m.


After concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 virus eliminated large gatherings, the Neighborhood Dinner had to adjust as well.


“A lot of folks rely on that – and we are all creatures of habit – so we needed to keep that going somehow,” said Doug Cowan, president and CEO of the Community Services League, which backs the weekly dinner for the needy in the community. “So we’ve pivoted to a sack-up dinner folks can take home. They can just drive through by the entrance and pick up their dinner instead of eating it there.”


Normally the Stone Church Neighborhood Dinner serves approximately 250 people each week with food and fellowship. The first drive-through version was last week. Program manager Barbara Graeff-Vinck said approximately 100 were served in that first week of the drive-through service.


“We’re not sure if that number is lower because people got food before it, but it’s very cyclical each week because some people won’t come when they get food beforehand,” Vinck said. “We’re trying to minimize contact, but that’s kind of the antithesis of everything we believe in – we try to offer fellowship and dignity along with the food – but we have to keep our people safe.


“But we definitely still see a need out there.”


Cowan said, though, that demand is sharply rising for CSL’s food pantries in Independence and Blue Springs.


“We’re seeing an unprecedented rise in demand,” he said.


He explained that with many losing work and schools shutting down, that the need for meals for home is mounting.


“A lot of kids get a lot of their food at school, and it’s just not lunches,” Cowan said. “Many are eating their breakfast at school, and many get the after-school snacks now being offered. Add that all together and a lot of kids are getting their food from school. So when they’re home, it’s putting a lot of pressure on families to provide food for their families.


“And if they’re out of work, there’s a lot of uncertainty there, so that’s how you see a really significant increase.”


Cowan said that sharp increase was especially felt on Monday. The Blue Springs and Noland Road food pantries served approximately 270 households – approximately 1,000 or more persons – on Monday alone.


“That’s normally what we’d get in a three- to four-day stretch – or sometimes longer,” Cowan said. “It’s hard to tell if that demand will keep up though. (Monday) may have been driven by the stay-at-home order that started (Tuesday).”


Cowan started in 2011 with CSL and said it had this rise in demand reminded him of a pair of incidents since then – the recession when he started and the Oak Grove-Grain Valley tornado in March 2017.


“Part of it feels like the recession, but a part of it feels like the tornado because all of a sudden there is an instant need. Nobody saw this coming – at least to this degree,” he said.


Cowan said that CSL should be able to meet the rise in demand for food, but CSL could always use more help and donations.


“The silver lining in all this is that people are being very generous – not just with food, but with money, personal hygiene items and employment opportunities,” he said. “And we have a lot of volunteers helping out as well.


“It’s good to see that people still care and want to help out.”


Cowan also said that federal legislation is making the procurement of food easier as well. He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is making some of its federal commodities reserves available.


He added that Harvesters Community Food Network in Kansas City, which supplies much of the food that CSL offers, received a shipment of 18 palettes of dry food Monday.


Cowan said that when the coronavirus crisis winds down that CSL will transition to more employment services and training to help put those people needing food now back to work.