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As COVID-19 Continues Surge, Families Turn To Regional Food Pantries For Help

Family Service Society

Western Kentucky food pantries are still struggling to feed families and stock their shelves as the region continues to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For two local food pantries, donations have decreased, but federal funding via the CARES Act has helped since the pandemic began.

Marshall County Caring Needline Director Becky Cornwell said their food pantry was hit hard at the start of the pandemic, when many people lost their jobs and filed for unemployment. There were even times when the pantry’s shelves were completely empty. 

Cornwell said her pantry is doing everything it can to keep their shelves stocked, with the help of the Purchase Area Development District (PADD).

The Marshall County Caring Needline is funded by the Feeding America organization, Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

Cornwell’s pantry only allows drive-thru donations and pick-ups of donations. Each item donated is sanitized before being distributed to families.

“If you’re here to pick up food, you don’t enter the building. We don’t take your paperwork. We don’t don’t touch your stuff, you don’t touch ours. That way, we can keep everything sanitized and on our behalf, ” Cornwell said.

Cornwell personally delivers to some families who have been exposed to COVID-19 by leaving food in their mailboxes and doorsteps. She said she wants to make sure there is no physical interaction with those receiving donations .

“We do have some that we deliver to but that’s because they can’t drive. I’ve had one that I work with that has a loved one in the hospital with covid. The other two are home isolated and can’t drive. Then I have a caregiver and a cancer patient that I deliver to. I also have a pregnant mother with two children and try to keep her safe,” she said.

Since Gov. Andy Beshear announced new restrictions on Nov. 18, her pantry has had double the amount of families ask for help.

Cornwell said a few parents have struggled providing three meals a day for their children since Marshall County Schools moved to virtual instruction on Nov. 15. Marshall County Schools has a meal service for students, but Cornwell said some parents have difficulty picking up food at designated times.

“The only option parents were given was to come to school daily and pick those up. Well, if you’ve got children doing NTI at home, you can’t go off and leave them and run to the school and pick up lunch for them,” Cornwell said. “It wasn’t user friendly, and who has the gas for that?”

The Marshall County County Needline hosted a Free Food Day on Nov. 17, sponsored by Benton Electric System, the Purchase Area Development District, and Humana. Some families who came for donations went home empty handed. 

“I don’t want anybody to be hungry in Marshall County, and I sure don’t want our children to be hungry,” she said.

Candace Melloy, Executive Director of the Family Service Society in Paducah, said families are coming into her pantry because they have no other choice. The Family Service Society also helps families with utility assistance, dental hygiene, and prescription medications and eye glasses. Since COVID-19 started, they've contributed to rent assistance.

“Since the initial crisis, things have slowed down a little more. We are still seeing an increase in services, but a lot of our folks who are coming to us now have never needed services in the past. Almost half of our clients have never received any kind of assistance from an agency,” Melloy said.

Melloy’s clients range from low-income individuals and families, and those unemployed and retired. She said she’s witnessed many families struggle to find jobs for the past five months.

The Family Service Society also moved to curbside pickup for clients to receive food. Donations are now placed in a drop off bin outside of their building. Employees are also required to wear masks at all times. Clients are no longer able to come into the building for appointments, but can set up phone calls. Melloy said the lack of face-to-face interaction with clients has eliminated “quality counseling” and guidance.

“It’s very important now more than ever for us to be able to take donations because our shelves are getting hit harder. Therefore we need more people to help us keep them stocked,” Melloy said.“This time of year, especially because Christmas, is hard for a lot of the folks we serve anyway, but this year is even harder because we have more people in our community that are unemployed and more people who are having to choose between paying utility bills and buying food.”

As COVID-19 might continue to surge in the months ahead, Melloy said she knows there will be even more families in need as the pandemic continues, and her food pantry will need help from the community as well. Donations and monetary support is encouraged.

“We want to be able to still support those of our community members that are losing jobs and losing income. We can’t do it without everybody’s help,” she said.

Those interested in donating to the Family Service Society can do so at their website.

Those interested in donating to theMarshall County Caring Needline can visit their Facebook page or contact Becky Cornwell at 270-753-6333

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