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.

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