Louise Eliason organized a network of 120 volunteers from her church and neighborhood to feed people in need

By Joelle Goldstein
May 04, 2020 03:23 PM
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Louise Eliason
| Credit: Courtesy Marlys Kerr

A Delaware woman recently took it upon herself to ensure that no one in her community went hungry amid the coronavirus pandemic.

When the COVID-19 outbreak caused her state to shut down, Louise Eliason knew there were many people, including the homeless and families in need, that would struggle to obtain food each day, Wilmington's The News Journal reported.

To prevent that from happening, the Wilmington woman organized a network of 120 volunteers from her church and neighborhood to deliver 10,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to a local nonprofit organization, Emmanuel Dining Room, according to the outlet.

"I thought about what gifts do I have to offer. And I thought, 'I live in a community that is just a can-do community,'" Eliason recalled to The News Journal. "I was looking for a way to give back. And that was it."

Once schools shut down on March 15, Eliason said she began to research ways she could help those who were out of jobs and unable to afford food, as well as the children who relied on their meals at school to eat.

The entrepreneur, who also works in public relations, zeroed in on Emmanuel Dining Room, which is run by the Ministry of Caring and "helps alleviate the immediate needs of Delaware’s hungry with nutritious meals served at no cost," according to its website.

The nonprofit was reportedly accepting donations amid the pandemic, but not volunteers, according to The News Journal.

Cars with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
| Credit: Louise Eliason

Eliason, however, wanted to do more than just donate — so she began to read through guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and food-handling articles to learn how she could safely deliver food to her neighbors in need.

"Safety for everybody was paramount to me," she told The News Journal.

Eliason ultimately came up with an idea where people could drive to the Westminster Presbyterian Church parking lot on Friday through Sunday, pop their trunks, and drop off their PB&J sandwiches, according to the outlet.

The drop-off would be completely contact-free, as two designated volunteers, wearing proper protective gear, would handle the deliveries.

"I make it fun by calling it the PB&J pop-up and dress in purple and it's a crazy outfit — just to make it fun and lively," Eliason told The News Journal. "But make no mistake, this is a humanitarian effort and you stay six feet away."

Eliason's first set of drop-offs on March 22 helped deliver 120 sandwiches — but once word of her efforts began to spread, more neighbors expressed interest in volunteering, and sandwiches came in by the hundreds, The News Journal reported.

Currently, Eliason and her 120 volunteers are helping feed hundreds of people across Emmanuel Dining Room's three Wilmington locations every weekend, according to the outlet. This past weekend, the group marked their 10,000th sandwich delivery.

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"I remember the first time I was out there and I was nervous about it," Eliason recalled to The News Journal of her progress. "I was just giving a prayer and just asking God to look over those people coming in bringing sandwiches and to look over those that are going to be receiving."

For her efforts, Eliason was nominated as one of The News Journal's local heroes for performing an act of kindness. She's also been recognized by leaders with the Emmanuel Dining Room.

"It is with a grateful heart that we thank Louise and her teams," Priscilla Rakestraw, the development director for the Ministry of Caring, said in a statement to the local outlet. "Louise is the cheerleader and the captain. We are struggling, but it shows that one person can make a difference."

Added Eliason's friend, Marlys Kerr, who goes to church with her and nominated her for the hero award: "She's been able to provide so much. Once you know Louise, she's a very enthusiastic person for whatever she does."

As of Monday afternoon, there have been over 1.1 million cases and at least 68,329 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to The New York Times. In Delaware, at least 5,288 cases and 182 deaths have been reported, according to the Times.

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