SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A KELOLAND non-profit is still keeping many people fed during the pandemic.
While The Banquet is still getting free meals into the hands of those who need them, the organization has adjusted how it’s serving them.
You won’t find anyone eating at the tables at The Banquet right now.
“We really miss the guests being inside, and visiting with them you create friendships and those ties and the bonds and we don’t have that now,” The Banquet Angel Tina Foell said.
But there’s still plenty going on in the kitchen and dining hall because, pandemic or not, there is a meal to prepare for people in need.
Tina Foell is what’s called a Banquet Angel.
The longtime volunteer pitches in at The Banquet at least three times a week.
“It’s amazing here. It’s great. Great guests, great volunteers, great service. It’s just wonderful,” Foell said.
People line up outside to receive a meal at the door.
“It’s kind of like a drive-thru service I describe it as. We have a sneeze guard and then we pass it under and the line just flows through and they take it and they go,” The Banquet Director of Marketing and Development Andrew Hewitt said.
Recently, members of Salem-Zion Mennonite Church near Freeman prepared and served a meal sponsored by the church.
The group comes to The Banquet each year to do this, and the pandemic didn’t change that.
“We know everybody’s had to go through a lot of changes. Some of them are more difficult than others, but we want to realize that some things don’t change and that’s people being hungry and needing food,” Salem-Zion Mennonite Church Member Janette Epp said.
“There’s I think a lot of people in the community who maybe aren’t getting the nutrition consistently that they need and just to have a safe space that people know they can come I think is really important,” Salem-Zion Mennonite Church Member Lillie Eisenbeis said.
Volunteers are critical to The Banquet, but the pandemic has put a strain on volunteer availability.
“When we started off July, 78 percent of our meals were yet to be covered,” The Banquet Executive Director Tamera Jerke-Liesinger said.
Executive Director Tamera Jerke-Liesinger wants everyone to know The Banquet is taking safety precautions.
“We’re doing this the safest way we can. Contact free meals, social distancing, we’re all masked up, so really making it a safe environment for people,” Jerke-Liesinger said.
The Banquet has two locations, one in central Sioux Falls and one on the west side of town. Between the two facilities, about 500-700 meals are going out per night.
“We’re getting more phone calls every week from people who have never had to use The Banquet before, people who have been laid off from their jobs and whatnot and they’re starting to get to the point where they need some help. We’re glad to get those phone calls and tell them please come,” Jerke-Liesinger said.
The Banquet started offering contact-free meals in mid-March, and it will continue this style of service at least through August.
“People are relying on us to not only feed themselves but to feed their children and so being able to do this is critical,” Jerke-Liesinger said.
Even though Foell misses seeing people gathered around these tables, she knows the mission hasn’t changed one bit.
“It feeds a lot of people and they really rely on that,” Foell said.
If you’re interested in volunteering, click here.