Column: Chilling at home, reading

Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

Some readers have expressed a concern about me being out in the public a lot. Thanks for your concern, but I really don’t go out that much as a rule, anyway. Like many other people at home, I think that reading is one of the things that can make the “stay-at-home” experience better.

As are many editors, I am mostly at a computer all day. I have already been at home for several years. The tasks have changed a little with a small online-only publication. I could make an argument that I am “essential” based on all the guidelines, but I would just as soon stay at home. Currently, I am trying to work from home, using email, telephone and videos of meetings.

While many of you have been staying at home for five days, I have been at home for 16 days now, just inside and in the front and back yard. I decided earlier this month, since I am 65 years old, that I would not go out unnecessarily because of the risk of COVID-19 to the older population. Science is not my strongest subject, but I understood that being around large groups of people or in close proximity to people was a serious risk.

This month, the last time I went out was on March 13, when I was in a car doing a drive-through transaction, and didn’t get out of the car. Before that, the last time I was out was March 7, for the opening day of Wyandotte County Lake, when I went there in late morning, after the crowds thinned out, and I kept my distance from everyone.

I do miss having the freedom to go to a restaurant and have a meal inside, to go to church, or to go shopping for various items once in a while. Mostly, I don’t look at the stay-at-home order as a hardship, but as a good reason not to have to go out, because I like being home. I hope to go out again to restaurants or to cover a few events when we get the “all-clear,” if ever.

A lot of my hobbies already were indoor activities. I have always liked to read, and that hasn’t changed at all through the years, although I am now reading books online as well as in print.

In January, I was reading a paperbook from the 1970s that I had on my shelf for a number of years, “Humboldt’s Gift” by Saul Bellow. Set mostly in Chicago, the book involves a valuable manuscript left as an inheritance by a writer to a fellow writer. It’s sort of a stretch for most writers to imagine that an unpublished manuscript could be worth very much; that would be like winning Powerball for most.

Also recently, I read a newer book that was a holiday gift from my son. It was a collection of mysteries by Allison Golden, a contemporary writer with ties to England and California. It had a style that moved along at a fast clip and the style was reminiscent of a past famous mystery writer.

Then, in February, I was reading some collected short stories by Henry James that I had not read previously. I enjoyed the elegant writing. I found this collection of short stories on the free website, www.gutenberg.org, where a lot of out-of-print or copyright-free books are posted. Most of these books are over 75 years old, and some of them are classics.

After that, I read “One of Ours” by Willa Cather, also accessing it at www.gutenberg.org. I had read a lot of Cather’s more famous books previously, but this was one I hadn’t read yet. This book was set at the time of World War I, starting with a rural setting in Nebraska and then moving to the war front in Europe. I thought it was fascinating to see what the Midwest was like 100 years ago. Overall, the book was pretty sad. This is not a good escapist book for those trying to avoid COVID-19, as part of it details the Spanish flu epidemic’s effect a hundred years ago.

Last year, I was reading some collected essays of Mark Twain while I was sitting around in a waiting room. I was reading this on my cell phone through an Internet browser connection to www.gutenberg.org. It was a great change of mood from the glum expressions on the others’ faces in the waiting room. However, later on I discovered that reading on my cell phone was using up all the minutes available on it, and I had to stop that practice. Instead, I started reading on a Kindle that was a gift from my family.

In mid-March, around March 17, I moved on to a paperback novel I had on the shelf. I had started it earlier and then left midway through the book. Written by an Irish writer in the 1970s, it’s mostly about old rural ways of life giving way to urban expansion. I’m still in the middle of that 600-page book.

Currently, the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library buildings are closed through April 6, but fortunately for local residents, the library has a good program where readers can access books and movies online, and read or view them on various devices such as computers, tablets, phones and Kindles. If you haven’t used it before, some information is at http://wyandottedaily.com/public-library-books-movies-and-other-services-are-available-online/. The library’s website at https://ecommunity.kckpl.org/ is open when nearly everything else has closed. You need a KCKPL library card, but you can get one online at the same web address.

Readers also can purchase e-books at several major websites, including major bookstores’ websites. Or you can order books and have them delivered. Quite often these websites have sales on books.

There’s really no excuse for not reading, even when you have a “stay-at-home” order. What are you reading?

Mary Rupert is the editor of the Wyandotte Daily. She may be reached at maryr@wyandottedaily.com.

Social service agencies seeing increase in need from COVID-19 pandemic

by Mary Rupert

The closure of businesses and the loss of jobs in the area are having an effect on social service agencies.

Susila Jones, executive director of Cross-Lines Community Outreach, 736 Shawnee, Kansas City, Kansas, said in a telephone interview that they have seen increased numbers of people who need food assistance this week. Social distancing and stay-home rules are having an effect.

Usually, the agency sees about 35 families a day at its food pantry. This week, it served more than 150 families, she said.

“We are really, really worried about our food supply,” she said.

“We anticipate that the need is going to continue to increase, and to be harder and harder for us to get food, not just us, but for all (agencies),” she added.

Some of its regular food sources are not able to provide enough food currently.

“There are so many agencies like us needing food,” she added.

Thursday, there wasn’t a line around the block like there was on Wednesday, she noted.

An increase was seen as many people had their work hours reduced last week and are already feeling a financial strain, she said.

Also, the agency has had to make several changes with social distancing rules now in place.

In the past, people were able to come into the food pantry and choose the food they need, she said. Now, for social distancing, Cross-Lines has changed to a drive-through food pantry. An individual tells the agency the size of their family, and then volunteers and staff put boxed food into the cars as they pull up, she added.

This means there isn’t much choice of food for the families, as in the past, she said. On Thursday, families had a choice between two types of meat and after Thursday, they probably will have only one choice available, she added.

The agency has struggled to get food from Harvesters recently, as there is so much of an increased demand on them, she said. Some churches in the area had food pantries that have closed, and some of their clients are shifting to food pantries such as Cross-Lines, she said.

There has been stepped-up support from some churches, including the Church of the Resurrection, which is doing a food drop for Cross-Lines this weekend, she added.

Usually, Cross-Lines has a food kitchen serving a breakfast and hot lunch Monday through Friday, she said.

That has changed, with the dining room closed, and now Cross-Lines is handing out sack lunches from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., she said. The changes were made for social distancing and also to make sure the food is safe, she said. The dining room is closed so there are not too many people in the building, she added.

With the stay-home order in effect for a month, Cross-Lines has had to cancel two fundraisers and has sent out a plea to supporters to help cover the cost of food, she said.

She added that Cross-Lines will be sending an application to a new community organization that has been formed through the Greater Kansas City Foundation, and also to other programs, to help with funding for social service agencies.

Currently, the Wyandotte County Health Department and community health project are coordinating a project looking at ways to get food to people who are homebound because of a COVID-19 diagnosis or who can’t get out for food, she said. Details were still being worked out on that program, she added, and the local social service agencies may be a part of that.

“We are committed to staying here and making sure the community’s needs are met,” Jones said.

Cross-Lines has relied in the past on many volunteers over age 65, she said. They have encouraged volunteers over 65 to take a step back at this time, because of the risks, and are seeing an increase in younger volunteers to step in and fill some of the needs, she said.

“It’s a great way for younger folks to get involved and help protect our older population,” she said.

For more information on how to help, visit https://www.cross-lines.org/.

Grounded

Canada geese at Wyandotte County Lake were in a sort of V-formation on the ground on March 7. While the parks remain open, visitors are asked to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a recent post by the UG Parks Department. Meetings, reservations, programs and events have been suspended at the parks. Playgrounds will be closed. (Photo by Mary Rupert)