Unified Government offers online tools to help residents cope with COVID-19 outbreak

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County – Kansas City, Kansas unveiled several new interactive tools on Thursday that let residents track new cases of COVID-19, request food, volunteer, or donate vital goods to help the community.

All of these tools are available on the Unified Government’s dedicated COVID-19 webpage at www.wycokck.org/COVID-19. These tools include:

• A statistical dashboard updated daily that displays the number of confirmed cases, how many COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized, and other relevant data. To access the dashboard, click on the COVID-19 Dashboard tab.

• A food needs request form (click on the Food Needs Request tab). This allows residents to request food if they’re in need, such as residents who are in quarantine or isolation and cannot leave their homes to get food.

• Residents who want to help out can also volunteer for several activities needed during this pandemic or apply to donate items through the site. Just click on the “volunteer and donate” tab on the webpage.

“We’re trying to find ways to help our residents cope with the COVID-19 situation,” Mayor David Alvey said in a news release. “Whether they want information, or need food, or want to contribute to relief efforts by volunteering or donating, we’re dedicated to giving them tools to do that.”

About the dashboard

Other features of the dashboard include a map showing the zip codes with 5 or more confirmed cases, a chart tracking the number of cases day by day, and the total number of deaths caused by COVID-19 in Wyandotte County. The creation of the dashboard was a joint effort between the Unified Government Public Health Department and the Unified Government Knowledge Department.

Requesting needed food

If in need of food, residents can go to www.wycokck.org/COVID-19 and click the Food Needs Request tab. They’ll answer a few simple questions and provide their contact information. Their contact info will not be shared. It will only be used to address the food request The Unified Government Public Health Department is fielding these requests and partnering with Cross-Lines Community Outreach, which will deliver groceries to residents. If residents don’t have internet access, they can call 2-1-1 to request food.

Volunteering or donating

Residents who want to help other community members by volunteering or donating can click the Volunteer or Donate tab on the webpage. This takes them through a short questionnaire that collects information on how to contact them, their availability if they want to volunteer, or gathers information on what they’d like to donate. This information goes to the Unified Government Public Health Department, and residents will be contacted by a project coordinator with further instructions about how they can help.

While these new tools serve a variety of needs within the community during the COVID-19 outbreak, Mayor Alvey stressed that it’s still critically important that everyone continues to comply with the Stay At Home Order issued by Dr. Allen Greiner for Wyandotte County on March 21.

“One of the most effective ways we can slow the spread of COVID-19 is to practice social distancing, and comply with the Stay at Home Order, which instructs citizens to only leave their homes to conduct the business they need for their essential, day to day existence,” Alvey said. “It’s vitally important that our citizens understand what an important role they play in slowing the spread of COVID-19, to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system.”

For more information about these new tools, how to comply with the Stay At Home Order, and other actions the Unified Government is taking to slow the spread of COVID-19, visit www.wycokck.org/COVID-19.

Food pantries see increased need in Wyandotte County

Two food pantries in Wyandotte County are seeing an increased need, according to Denise Ogilvie, vice president of community engagement of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.

The two food pantries are at 2220 Central Ave. and 1708 Steele Road in Kansas City, Kansas.

Ogilvie estimated that the number of people needing services has increased about 30 percent since the COVID-19 pandemic started here, although exact numbers are not yet available.

The food pantries have changed the days that they are open to Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with more time to clean and restock, she said.

Catholic Charities completed its monthly mobile food distribution last Saturday at Harmon High School and saw a 30 percent increase there, she added.

They also are assisting in providing boxed or sack lunches in Wyandotte County to children ages 0 to 18, she said, and are distributing lunches out of the Central Avenue location. Currently Catholic Charities is working with the Housing Authority, discussing driving the organization’s bus to each Kansas City, Kansas, public housing site to hand out lunches from the bus.

While in the summertime, Catholic Charities also provides parent lunches, she said currently they don’t have that option, as they were not prepared for the emergency.

At the food pantries, clients formerly came into the pantry to choose their food, but at the recommendation of Harvesters and national experts, Catholic Charities has changed to a drive-up model, she said. They bag groceries and place them in people’s cars now.

Ogilvie said another big change because of COVID-19 might be that clients who need additional services, such as housing and utility, are now all handled over the phone, not in person. A client calls, and an appointment is made to call them on the phone and discuss their needs, instead of a face-to-face meeting.

“We expect once this stay-at-home order is finished we will be seeing more people,” Ogilvie said.

Currently, utilities are not being shut off in Wyandotte County and there is a restriction on evicting people from their residences in the state.

When some of the restrictions on eviction and utility assistance have been lifted, Ogilvie said she expected to see an increase in people needing help in those areas.

Some of the local food pantries, including some run by churches, have been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of the problem is that many volunteers are 65 and older, and they’re concerned for their own health, as they should be, Ogilvie said.

“We have a decreased number of volunteers and are hearing that across the board for the entire metro area,” she said. “Thankfully for us, we are still relying on volunteers who have continued to help us.”

Also, they are backfilling with staff members who usually have other roles in the agency, but are stepping up and helping keep the food pantry doors open, she said.

Catholic Charities typically relies on parishes for a lot of the donations, but since churches are under an order of no more than 10 people in a building, they have not had the same amount of donations as previously.

“Thankfully, a lot of people have stepped up,” Ogilvie said, “and want to give a donation to buy food. We are in need of donations and also are thankful to those who have stepped up to help us out.”

They need donations of food and money for the food pantries.

For more information on services, volunteering or donations, visit https://catholiccharitiesks.org/.

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/.