A downtown food mission continues to serve up meals safely to those in need, part of several community efforts to keep the help coming as the coronavirus pandemic continues on.
Sonshine Soup Kitchen on Crystal Avenue in Derry serves up free meals four days a week, with a drive-up, pick-up option now in place to keep patrons safe and socially distanced.
Earlier this year, Sonshine closed its doors and indoor dining room due to COVID-19, but joined others in the area to find ways to continue to serve while keeping safety guidelines in place.
That led to devising a plan to continue to offer free meals, but with a safe way of doing so.
Upwards of 40 people drive up to the side of Sonshine's building on any given day, Monday through Thursday, for a meal prepared by a team of volunteers.
For over 30 years, Sonshine has offered a daily dose of not only a nutritious free meal to those in need, but a strong volunteer network representing area businesses, schools, churches and individuals wanting to pitch in and help.
Sonshine Executive Director Christine Fudala said the food mission could not function without its volunteers and teams, coming in every day to either cook meals, serve, or do after-meal cleanup.
Last year, the soup kitchen served up more than 10,000 meals, an increase from the year before.
Fudala said Sonshine is a haven for many, and more and more are being served. People of all ages came for meals, with various life circumstances taking hold and forcing many to face challenges.
It's also about the staff and groups of volunteers and their safety during this time, Fudala said.
Volunteer teams still come to Sonshine, all wearing masks and continuing to make meals. All volunteers have temperatures checked prior to coming in and also give contact information.
Some volunteers didn't come back once the food mission reopened due to health and age concerns. But Fudala said current teams are doing a great job staying safe.
"We certainly don't want anyone putting themselves in danger," Fudala said. "People (volunteers) are starting to come back."
Sonshine also reaps the benefits of donations other than food and service, including clothing and personal items.
A recent day in Sonshine's kitchen brought in a team from Beacon Church, a new and growing congregation hoping to find a location in the Derry area.
Pastor Adam Brucker said he welcomed the opportunity to bring a team to Sonshine to help.
"We want to make a difference in our community," he said.
Longtime Sonshine board member Margie Ives said people who rely on Sonshine appreciate the help.
"People are so grateful," Ives said.
In addition to offering food to those in need, another community effort is blanketing the school district's families with warmth this season.
A coat drive runs through Nov. 13, hosted by RE/MAX Innovative Properties along with support from Pinkerton Academy's Interact Club, collecting coats, snow pants and other outerwear to donate to families in the Derry school district.
A large number of coats were delivered to West Running Brook Middle School recently, where school district home-to-school coordinators Alicia Triplett and Lee Holder said they welcomed the support.
And families are needing the support, Holder added.
Triplett said the pandemic is adding additional stress to families, accompanying any other challenges they are facing.
"It's unbelievable how the community has rallied for the students," she said "There are more people in need of everything, and fewer resources due to the pandemic."
Coat drive organizer Susan Ochoa said people are being very generous. It also makes her happy to help.
"Giving makes me feel good and I hope to be a good example for my kids," Ochoa said. "Finding local needs and bringing awareness to them is a simple way of giving. By doing these drives and meeting all the folks I have over the past five years or so has made Derry become home."
To donate a new coat: Contact Susan Ochoa at 603-812-1100. Drive also accepts financial donations.
Learn more about Sonshine Soup Kitchen: Call 603-437-2833 or visit sonshinesoupkitchen.org.