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A community steps up

Mike Genet
Church volunteers pack boxes of non-perishable food last week at Community Services League headquarters in Independence.

The Community Services League is still seeing higher-than-normal demand for food assistance at its nine pantries around Eastern Jackson County,

The surge might not be as high as it was a month or six weeks ago, CSL Senior Vice President Lynn Rose said, but she’s also seeing less of something else as the country tries to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re seeing a slow decrease in their voices in anxiety and fear,” Rose said. “We were all doing it. It has leveled off that they’re not in the panic stage.”

A couple weeks into the pandemic, CSL experienced roughly 400 percent more in food assistance requests than normal – distributing about a month’s worth of goods in a week. From the time Independence declared a state of emergency on March 12 to May 29, CSL gave out enough food for 1 million meals.

One day at the Noland Road headquarters in Independence, Rose said, they helped 453 families.

“That was an absolute hustle,” she said.

Now, demand is running about 200 percent above the norm, Rose said, and that general trend has been consistent across all the pantries in EJC.

Fortunately, CSL has been able to keep up with demand, both in food and the necessary volunteer help (thanks in part to some people on furlough or temporary lay-off). Starting this month through the summer, they have a drive-thru food pantry open at the Noland Road location every other Saturday, and then some combination of the other eight food pantries in EJC open on weekdays, with daily social media announcements. All pantries are drive-thru only, and CSL is not distributing clothing or taking in clothing and household good donations this summer.

Volunteers from Church of the Four Corners and Revive Church pack boxes on Friday at Noland Road and then run the drive-thru distribution on Saturdays. The first Saturday, they served about 300 families at Noland Road – typically what they would see in a week, Rose said.

Through a partnership with Harvesters and the Department of Agriculture, CSL is able to offer a “Farmers to Families Food Box” program using CARES Act funds. With “Farmers to Families,” CSL provides dairy and produce items to families at no charge during its Saturday food pantry and at various pop-up events – the first one is 10 a.m.-noon Thursday at the Community of Christ Auditorium parking lot.

The volunteer help at Noland Road allows CSL employees to focus again on other outreach efforts like benefits and housing counseling, financial coaching and employment services. As the initial pandemic relief funds like stimulus checks start to dry up and many utility companies plan to end suspensions of shutoffs and late fees in July, those service needs will re-emerge, Rose said.

“We had to start seeing people again, to help people avoid homelessness or housing disturbances,” she said. “We know we’ve not yet seen the big need for utility assistance.”