As the state of West Virginia enters the third week of reopening businesses and society in general, we are all trying to move past the COVID-19 pandemic and take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief.
Not so fast my friend.
Jefferson County Community Ministries operates a food bank, a cold weather homeless shelter (which had to close two weeks early this year due to COVID-19), along with utility and rent assistance programs. It also works in conjunction with many other faith-based and government entities who help the homeless and in general, people in need.
Greg Petersen, the operations director at Jefferson County Community Ministries, estimates that the overall demand for assistance has increased by 25 percent so far, but expects that number to rise in the coming weeks.
Along with the stay-at-home orders, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice also issued decrees that outlaw utility companies from cutting people’s power off and prevent evictions.
As the economy re-opens and at least some people start to go back to work, those orders concerning utilities and rent are going to be lifted, which is going to force more people to ask for help.
“I have a feeling a lot of clients aren’t paying their bills and when that order gets lifted, we’re going to see a storm of requests for utility and rent assistance,” Petersen said. “The flood gates haven’t even opened yet. We can talk about what we’ve done in response here, but I don’t believe we’ve reached the cusp of it yet. This is the calm before the real storm.”
While Petersen expects these coming events to put a strain on the group’s rent and utility assistance programs, he believes it will also lead to more food insecurity for those who figure out how to catch up the rent and their utility bills.
“That’s why we worry about our food bank stock, because when all of this hits, we’re going to really see what the true food insecurity issues are,” he said.
Jefferson County Community Ministries has received great support throughout this health emergency, as Petersen explained.
“Our supporting churches have been incredible,” Petersen said. “In the food pantry, our reserves are dwindling quickly, but our churches have done a great job of stepping up. We had a delivery of 800 pounds from one church the other day.
“They’ve been incredible with donations, financially, and with groceries, which is amazing when you consider that grocery stores have been limiting what they let people buy. We’ve seen donations from people who have never donated before.”
Petersen also lauded the contributions of the communities throughout Jefferson County, along with donations from Martins Grocery Store and Sheetz Gas Stations.
It’s all appreciated, but the need is going to increase in the coming weeks.
Without continued support from the community, the resources available are going to be seriously strained.
A good example comes with the volunteer pool. Petersen pointed out that, prior to the outbreak, many of JCCM’s volunteers are older people, who are considered at-risk for having severe complications from COVID-19.