For community service organizations, the pandemic & economic crisis have forced drastic changes to operations and funding — even as these groups are called to meet needs on a scale they’ve never experienced.
In 2007, Diana Wall found herself called to a mission. Working with Community Combined Ministries, she founded a program to source, assemble and distribute food packages through the Jefferson and Berkeley County School Districts. Kidz Power Pacs (KPP for short) is designed to provide children food for weekends and school breaks, filling a gap not served by weekday, in-school nutrition programs funded by the government.
For the last 13 years, 100 to 250 volunteers have gathered once a month at Eagle School Intermediate in Martinsburg to fill these Pacs with easy-to-prepare meals that kids can heat themselves. Schools identify the meal needs, parents approve what kids receive and the assembled Paks are delivered through the school system.
For the ministry, the group packing effort served to nurture the community of volunteers as much as it sustained the logistics of the operation. The operation ran smoothly until mid-March of this year when restrictions on large gatherings forced Dianna Wall to close the public packings. But completely suspending the program was not an option for Diana, so she persevered: “For the first seven weeks, it was just me and a few others packing every day, all day, even on Sunday.” Wall explained that “all day” often meant spending 11 hours or more on packing. Now the packing days are shorter and the size of volunteer groups is limited by invitation to stay within the guidelines on public gatherings.
Before the pandemic-related restrictions began, the school systems handled the distribution of Paks to 1,000 kids in Jefferson and Berkeley counties. When schools closed, the logistics of distribution quickly became more complicated. Due to privacy guidelines, the schools could not simply turn over a list of recipients for volunteers to deliver. Fortunately, the school systems stepped up to the challenge. Bus drivers in Jefferson County continued to deliver the Pacs from March through May. In Berkeley County, school counselors made the deliveries. Wall says just between March and May KPP and its volunteers have supplied 252,000 meals for those 1000 kids identified by the school systems.
Without the use of school buildings, the packing location has moved around. Charles Town Baptist Church gave KPP space for several weeks, but volunteers mostly set up the supplies in the morning, pack all day and bring remaining supplies home at night. “We need at least 5,000 feet of open space to pack, store, and access for our delivery teams,” explained Wall.
“Finding the food was a huge ordeal,” she says. “Thankfully, we put in extra orders before the shutdown.” Community Combined uses mostly packaged foods, but with stores restricting bulk purchases and supply disruptions, the organization has shifted to online ordering. Wall says they have been able to find the food they need, but it’s more expensive. In the four months since the shutdown in March, the organization has spent $73,000 on food, over half of their annual budget.
Typically, Community Combined is funded by individual and church donations. Both have been reduced by the stay-at-home orders. They received a $4,500 grant from Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation. Sam’s Club and United Way have donated, and a local family’s foundation graced the ministry with $10,000.
If the next school year is not a traditional one, Wall expects KPP to soon be filling an even larger gap that school meal programs will not be covering. Wall will be spending the summer figuring out how to adjust the services, how to adjust the budget and how to raise additional funds.
The Community Combined Ministries website has information on how to donate and support this program.By Amy Hiett