Charity Demand On The Increase – Transylvania County, NC
Last updated 12/10/2020 at 2:29pm
Demand for charitable services typically picks up around the holidays, and, recently, The Transylvania Times spoke with three local nonprofits offering help to the community’s low-income residents to discuss how COVID-19 and its accompanying recession have impacted their services this year.
At the Sharing House, one of the county’s most robust organizations for helping low-income residents (up to 200 percent above the poverty line), Executive Director Shelly Webb said the number of people who have requested financial assistance from September through the first week of December, compared to 2019, increased 44 percent.
In total, 488 households have requested emergency financial assistance in that span of time this year.
“People are still unemployed or under-employed,” Webb said. “Our numbers are increasing, and the bills are increasing. The amount of people who are in dire straits, with their financial bills, is large. Part of that is because of their deferment of not paying...because they were not being required to pay it to keep the electricity on, and now Duke Power has begun to cut people off. They are offering a payment plan, which is helpful, but, even with that, just the employment continues to be at a pace that’s not meeting the needs of the people.”
The Times spoke with Webb in September after federal unemployment benefits from the CARES Act ran out at the end of July, which coincided with a massive jump in demand for the Sharing House’s services starting in August.
The Sharing House gives away a week’s supply of food to a household once per month, and Webb said when comparing monthly food orders from before extra unemployment benefits ran out to after, the increase is staggering. In one week in July, the Sharing House gave out 43 food orders. During one week in November, they gave out 78 food orders, an increase of 81 percent.
Compared to 2019, Webb said the Sharing House has also given away 14 percent more total pounds of food this year and saw an increase in 58 percent for its free Tuesday produce box program.
In particular, single parents and families with young children are struggling, Webb said, as juggling a full-time job while keeping up with complicated child care schedules is taking a toll on working people.
Webb shared one anecdote of a Sharing House client who was forced to choose between keeping her child enrolled in kindergarten and maintaining her full-time work schedule.
The woman is a single mother and she ended up having to enroll her child in a child care facility instead of kindergarten, because the kindergarten schedule was not five days a week due to the pandemic.
Webb said the woman was worried her child was falling behind, and she even tried to reduce her hours at her full-time job and pick up a second part-time job to allow her to stay home with her son.
What ended up happening though is her first job wouldn’t let her reduce hours and let her go.
“It’s just hard to string together enough jobs to stay afloat and juggle child care that’s available,” Webb said. (She’s) trying to juggle what’s best for (her) son as he’s growing versus also what’s important is paying the bills, so he has a house to live under, and then risking losing a job because you took another job. And that’s exactly what happened. What she thought was getting ahead actually turned out to be hard on her financially because she lost her second job.”
Webb said they have been serving people who haven’t needed the Sharing House’s services in years.
“Every week we see a gradual increase of families seeking food assistance,” she said. “We are seeing more people who have not been to Sharing House in years, who have been adversely affected by COVID and face reduced employment or less hours.”
Conversely, however, at the county’s only homeless shelter, The Haven is experiencing the opposite problem.
Executive Director Emily Lowery said the census is significantly down at the shelter, which is odd this time of year when the numbers typically pick up.
“It’s different than it used to be, and I’m not sure if that’s because of COVID because people are scared to come in,” Lowery said. “I haven’t identified what that is yet, so that’s really all I can think of right now because it just is baffling to me. I don’t understand why people aren’t here. We’ll get calls, but then nobody follows through.”
To stay at The Haven, Lowery said individuals must first test negative for COVID-19. Lowery said The Haven has a partnership with Blue Ridge Health, where folks can get tested for free, but that many people have not followed through with their testing appointments and then never show up at the shelter.
Recently, Lowery said, The Haven has been able to set up a “code purple” emergency shelter for folks when the temperature drops below freezing.
At the emergency shelter, there are no questions asked and anyone can stay.
At the code purple shelter, people are required to social distance and wear masks and they won’t need to get tested for COVID-19 first.
Lowery hopes that word will spread about this service, as it gets colder throughout the winter.
At one of the county’s largest food distributors, Anchor Baptist, Pastor Randy Barton said it has been a tough year.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when the state shut down, Barton said the food bank ministry saw demand skyrocket, with cars lined up all the way into U.S. 64, stopping traffic.
As the pandemic went on, he said demand began to level out again, but recently the warehouse had to shut down due to staff members testing positive for COVID-19.
Barton caught the virus, and weeks later he is still not back to full health.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the warehouse, Barton said he was not able to set up their usual “adopt a family” Christmas program.
Typically, Anchor Baptist will sponsor a family’s Christmas meal, with $25 food vouchers.
This year, with help from donation funds from Lake Toxaway Charities, Barton said they would be able to hand out some vouchers but not enough to meet the demand.
For anyone wanting to help contribute to the fund, Barton said his ministry set up an online donation portal at http://www.anchorbaptistdisaster.net.
In November, Barton said they had 5,316 individual distributions (not individual families as one person may use multiple distributions), despite being closed for a week due to COVID-19. The warehouse at Anchor Baptist runs several different food distribution programs and is the only Emergency Food Assistance Program distributor in the county. They also are a MANNA distributor and have what they call “free bay” and “neighbor to neighbor” food programs, where they give away fresh produce and frozen and canned goods out to anyone who needs it, no questions asked.
Warehouse manager Bari Hernandez said the warehouse is still seeing an increased demand for its services compared to pre-pandemic times.
One way the pandemic has complicated the Anchor Baptist operation is that it’s been difficult to get a hold of “seconds” food for their grocery thrift store.
To self-sustain their food pantry, Anchor Baptist also runs a grocery store, selling slightly damaged goods that grocery stores reject for about half price.
Because grocery store customers have been stripping the shelves in the pandemic, Barton said there has been no seconds market to buy from, which, in turn, has caused their revenue to decline, while demand has picked up.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Barton said he’s also worried folks might be afraid to come by.
“We’re dealing with fear because a lot of our clientele are afraid to get out,” he said. “And people who really need help, they won’t come because they won’t come inside, and they’re afraid. The fact that we had to close because of COVID, the word got out and the sign was up when we were closed. So now, you know, it scared them. So, the people who need it the most are not getting it.”
Hernandez said he has seen folks come by the warehouse that have never been clients before, but that he’s glad that people are coming for help if they need it.
He said it’s common for many people to be hesitant to ask for help, for fear of taking away food from those who might “need it more,” but Hernandez said, if anyone needs food, no matter who they are, that he hopes they come by and get what they need without feeling ashamed.