Piles of beans and rice, toilet paper and paper towels and even pet supplies grew in the parking lot of the Unitarian Universalist Church Tuesday as the Grand Junction Mutual Aid group held a supply drive for people in need.

The group, which began just over a week ago on Facebook, has grown to more than 12,500 members and has been connecting people in the community allowing them to trade needed items and offer information about the COVID-19 outbreak. It has expanded into in-person efforts like Tuesday’s drive, drawing donors and community volunteers out to help.

“They were looking for volunteers to help collect items for people in the community and I’ve always been involved with volunteering without groups,” volunteer TM Mahlum said. “Right now is the time for people to step up and help others in the community if they can and this is one way.”

The day began at 9 a.m. when donations began to trickle in. Mahlum said it started slowly at first but began to pick up. The group was taking precautions as they accepted items like drawing chalk marks on the pavement to keep people lining up six feet apart. The volunteers wore marks and gloves and disinfected each of the products donated.

“These people are wonderful that they’re doing it and they’re making it safe,” Rita Brown, who donated some rolls of toilet paper, said. “You see them disinfecting all of it, even the sugar!”

Brown said she was happy to give back to someone who was in need during the current situation, which has left store shelves bare of necessary supplies. While she was well stocked and able to make a donation, she said she was still concerned.

“I think it’s really scary,” Brown said. “First it was going to just be a short time. Now it’s going to be longer. They’re even talking 18 months, so I’m starting my garden a little early.”

After collecting items in the morning, people in need were allowed to come through from noon through 2 p.m. to collect things they needed, Grand Junction Mutual Aid Founder Jacob Richards said. He estimated they gave items to between 50 and 100 people. Popular items included toilet paper, cleaning supplies and non-perishable food. Flour was one sought after food supply they did not have.

Going forward, Richards said the group plans to continue its supply drives each Tuesday. In between drives he said the items will be stocked into the Unitarian Church’s Blessing Box, where people can take what they need. Overall he said he was happy with the group’s efforts.

“It’s worked out good,” Richards said. “People have been coming up to it all day and we’ve been giving them some extra supplies. It’s been a very positive day.”

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