The demand for food assistance in Eastern Jackson County has risen in recent weeks even as area businesses begin to plan to reopen in the next month amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doug Cowan, president and CEO of the Community Services League, said demand may continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

“The demand actually has gone up even more recently,” Cowan said. “Families are really hurting economically. And it’s not just about the food, it’s also assistance with utility bills and rental assistance. I don’t have a certain percentage on it, but we’ve seen the demand in April tick up each week.”

Cowan said one of the 10 drive-through food handouts in Eastern Jackson County recently exceeded more than 400 vehicles seeking assistance in a five-hour period.

Cowan said that CSL is trying to make it easier for their workers and volunteers – and for the people getting the food – by reducing red tape.

“We’ve pretty much eliminated all restrictions or paperwork for families to get food,” he said. “... We don’t want them to have to stay there long and fill out a lot of paperwork, because we don’t them spreading the virus by doing that, and we want to protect our people too. Health and safety is critical.”

“All we do now is ask how many are in their household so we can report that to the federal commodities program, which is trying to keep track of how many people are needing help. … By reducing regulations, it allows us to get more food to the people who need it.”

Cowan said that they are also beginning to see more social and case workers at the drive-through assistance sites. They are picking up food for the elderly and people who are not able to get out.

Cowan said that a reason for the uptick in demand might be because it’s near the end of the month.

“We usually see the demand rise at the end of months,” he said. “SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) dollars typically come to people at the first of the month, so people tend to run short near the end of each month and ask us for help.”

CSL not only helps those struggling with food, but also provides rental and mortgage, utility, employment and health care assistance.

He said other reasons for the recent uptick in demand might be that children are not being fed at school now (though some free meals have been available from schools) and that employment is still trending downward.

“Early on, when this first started, some people might have been able to keep their jobs for a little while, some may have been able to cash in their PTO (paid time off) or some were getting PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) money, and they were able to sustain themselves that way,” Cowan said. “Now some of that has gone away and the original PPP money was used up pretty quickly.”

CSL received on Monday a $75,000 grant from the Kansas City Regional COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. Cowan also said money from the $500 billion federal coronavirus stimulus bill that passed through the House of Representatives last Thursday and was signed by President Trump is starting to trickle in.

CSL is also benefitting from a large response from the community itself.

“The community, as a whole, has really, really stepped up for us,” Cowan said. “There’s been a lot of communitywide collection efforts and a lot of area churches have had drive-through collection efforts.”

“We’re also able to access forgivable loans like PPP, and we’ve gotten help through several grant-making foundations. We’ve gotten help from the grassroots level, the foundations level and through the federal government that has allowed us to keep adding levels of security for families.”

But he is expecting the demand for help to be higher for a while.

“We’re looking at this as a long-term marathon,” Cowan said. “Restrictions are starting to loosen up and things are beginning to open up. But those places that can or do open will have much less staff than they had previously, and not all workers will be able to go back. Demand for what we can help many of them with will continue.”