As more families struggle to afford items they need, local agencies like the Highland County Community Action Organization, Inc. (HCCAO) do what they can to help. For HCCAO, that meant expanding access to its food pantry and expanding the number of seniors its senior nutrition program serves.
On March 13, HCCAO increased access to its food pantry from once a month to twice a month to help alleviate the strain on local households, not just for those the pantry typically serves but also for those seeking alternative resources. In addition to food items, the pantry has also begun offering hygiene items including soap, toothpaste, toilet paper and household cleaning supplies.
In March, the agency’s food pantry served 237 families, a 20-percent increase in the number of households accessing the food pantry at least once, according to HCCAO Director of Social Services Christi Hauke. That’s a nearly 30-percent increase from this time last year, and though statistics on the number of households who accessed the pantry in April aren’t currently available, Hauke expects those numbers to increase further.
“We’ve seen a lot of folks who haven’t been in to see us in quite some time — or ever — coming in for food assistance. We knew when things became more difficult financially for people who were on furloughs, laid off, or waiting for unemployment that there would be a demand for assistance,” Hauke said. “The need for April was higher because there were a lot of folks who applied for unemployment benefits and still hadn’t received them and didn’t have the funds to purchase necessary items.”
Panic-buying made the situation even more difficult for those who were already struggling or who suddenly found themselves without a reliable income.
“As people are out panic-buying items, it’s just going to cause an economic ripple-effect of the demand increasing and supply decreasing, so prices are driven up. It leaves marginalized folks and low-income folks out of being able to even purchase items,” Hauke said. “In an economy locally where folks are already struggling and with the pandemic furloughs and the lack of funds coming from unemployment, that means families are really stretching their dollars as far as they can go. We’re seeing that there are more and more food products becoming available in stores, but some of the prices have gone up, which makes it harder for those budgets to stretch. But you can’t find Lysol or disinfectant; you can’t find hand sanitizer or hand soap — some of those basic things that are necessary for everyone to use regularly to shorten this pandemic.”
Panic-buying has also made it difficult for providers like HCCAO to get materials they need to help the community.
Though HCCAO’s senior nutrition program was still able to provide hot meals, the program struggled for about three weeks to obtain frozen meals to get local senior citizens through weekends. HCCAO has also struggled to find cleaning supplies for use within the agency.
But in early April, HCCAO was able to expand its senior nutrition program to temporarily provide anyone 60 or older with hot, home-delivered meals during the state of emergency.
“We’re trying to protect our vulnerable population the best we can,” Hauke said, acknowledging that those eligible for the program are also in the high-risk category for COVID-19. “Anybody’s who’s interested should call us, so we can start getting meals to them.”
There is no longer a waiting list for the program. HCCAO’s senior nutrition program now serves 163 seniors and will continue to accept as many community members who are 60 or older and need food assistance as it logistically can.
For more information about HCCAO’s senior nutrition program, contact Site Manager Amy Faulconer at 937-981-2895.
Typically, Hauke said community members donate shelf-stable items like canned soups as regularly as once a week, but since the pandemic began donations to HCCAO have ceased.
“We haven’t received any donations at all, and that’s the rough part for us,” Hauke said. “Those folks have not been in, and I’m not sure if it’s because they haven’t been in because of their own financial situation or it’s the fear of getting out in the community, but either way, the lack of donations has definitely hit us.”
Donating products to HCCAO is contactless — community members can leave items in HCCAO lobbies between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Currently, HCCAO’s food pantry is totally out of hygiene products like toothpaste, soap, toilet paper and cleaning supplies.
Those who would like to make monetary donations can do so by visiting hccao.org/about/donate or by mailing a check. To ensure the funds are used for a specific program, like the food pantry or the senior nutrition program, indicate the program in the appropriate area on the online donation form, on the check, or by contacting the HCCAO fiscal department at 937-393-3458.
Highland County Community Action Organization, Inc. has offices at 1487 N High St., Suite 500, in Hillsboro; and 338 Lafayette St. in Greenfield. HCCAO can be reached at 937-393-3458.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.