Food Pantries In Jefferson County See Increasing Need
When The Observer spoke with Greg Petersen of the Jefferson County Community Ministries (JCCM) for our July 2020 issue, the Food Pantry operated by JCCM in downtown Charles Town was in the early days of navigating the pandemic and the staff was anticipating a sharp increase in demand. We recently touched base with John Cloyd, Greg’s colleague at JCCM to see what they experienced over the summer and what they expect this winter.
“We lost 90 percent of our volunteers in the spring,” Cloyd reported. “Fortunately, we’ve picked up a whole new set of people willing to give their time. On a typical day we’ll have 15 people assisting. Previously our volunteers were mostly retired people, but the pandemic created a lot of concerns for them. What we see now are younger people who have flexible schedules because of the pandemic — it’s a mix of what I call youth — people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Even some college students who are studying at home.”
A Delayed Demand
“Fortunately, we didn’t see the increase in demand for food that we had expected,” Cloyd continued. “We assume that the stimulus money and enhanced unemployment benefits cushioned the economic blow for many, so we didn’t see a big spike. Our activity was actually lower in the summer, perhaps because many of our churches were offering bag lunches and other food assistance programs.” With the cold weather returning, Cloyd observed that “were back up to our pre-March levels of activity. We have 2,000 active clients and we typically see 20 every day. That represents families too, so we’re serving a lot more people than that number.”
Cloyd did note that “the changes we made to the pick-up process are still in place. In our pre-COVID operation, clients would come into the facility, but now our volunteers will pick out the food and bring it out to the front for our clients.” He also noted that “the JCCM mission is to help our clients regain self-sufficiency, so our intake process is more than just signing up for a grocery voucher. We still have a lot of interaction with our clients and offer other services.”
A Long Year Ahead
Looking ahead, Cloyd remarked that “fall is always the ‘giving time’ when JCCM historically builds up its food stocks to carry through the spring. If there is a message I would like to send, it’s that we are a 365-day operation. It’s nice to be remembered now, but we do need support year-round. I do believe that we haven’t seen the worst yet. For all of the folks who were able to defer rent payments or pick up work, we expect to see a lot more difficulty in the months ahead. Our goal this fall is to fill all of our storage space with food supplies so we’re ready for the deluge.”
Asked about what support JCCM needs, Cloyd thanked Martin’s Foods in Charles Town for their generosity and all of the many donors to JCCM. “Martin’s is donating a large number of turkeys for our Thanksgiving distribution and they work with us every week to donate a significant amount of food. We rely on our cash donations to complete the order, especially to purchase meat and proteins.”
Around the County
JCCM has been serving the Charles Town area since 1982. Cloyd noted that transportation is an issue for many clients, one of the reasons that JCCM encouraged the opening of the Shepherdstown Shares Food Pantry to serve the northern part of Jefferson County. The Observer spoke with Cari Simon after the first afternoon the new pantry opened in early November to get her insights. She reported that only a handful of clients had visited on the first weekend. When we spoke again a week later, Simon remarked, “we signed up nine new clients today and now have 78 individuals on our list. It’s a cross-section of the community, from college students to seniors.”
Simon noted that Martin’s Foods in Charles Town is also assisting with this pantry. “We have volunteers visiting the store twice a week to pick up produce that they are donating so we have fresh vegetables available for our two distribution days. JCCM was also a great help in getting us started. They provided a large amount of staples and canned goods, as well as a significant amount of meat.”
Describing the operation, Simon mentioned that she has had a great response from volunteers. “We have five volunteers in the pantry during our service hours to pack up the food and bring it to the pickup point outside in the alley. We also do a lot of work to break down large cases and repackage items so we can provide our clients with a week’s worth of food and supplies, and we also have people helping with deliveries to a couple of groups that would have difficulty getting to the pantry. It’s very labor-intensive.”
Simon explained that, “we’re starting off with a plan to accommodate 100 clients each week.” We ask clients to pre-register so we can better understand what they need — some just need a supplement to get them by, but others have more needs. We keep all of this information confidential — it’s just on paper and it goes home with me to keep it secure. Our aim is to help understand each person’s needs so we can better tailor what we provide. This is just a beginning. We’re just trying to help and I appreciate the good energy of our volunteers.”
The JCCM Food Pantry is located at 238 West Washington Street in downtown Charles Town. The pantry is open for clients Monday through Friday, 9 am to noon (also on the last Saturday of the month from 9 am to 1 pm). For more information on services or to donate, visit the website.
The Shepherdstown Shares Pantry is located in the Trinity chapel building at the corner of Church Street and West Back Alley in downtown Shepherdstown. The pantry is open for clients on Saturday afternoons from 3 to 5 and on Monday afternoons from 12:30 to 3:30. Donations of food and personal items can be dropped off on Thursdays after 9:30 am and on Sunday between 9 am and 10 am. For more information on services or to donate, visit the website.By Staff Contributor