Shockwaves: Silverton’s community aid suppliers plan for hard weeks

April 2020 Posted in Community, News

By Melissa Wagoner

This time may very well be the calm before the storm for many community aid organizations, including both Sheltering Silverton and Silverton Area Community Aid (SACA), as more and more people lose their jobs or are laid off due to closures stemming from the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

“On Friday we ran a few reports and were trying to figure out what our numbers were like,” SACA’s Executive Director, Sarah DeSantis, said, noting that although overall numbers were currently down from those seen in January and February (historically two of SACA’s busiest months), the number of new families signing up increased significantly.

“We served 14 new households last week alone (as compared to a total of 30 new households in the whole month of January).”

But, while the numbers served are not overwhelming – at least not yet – the amount of donations, especially from local grocery stores has taken a nose-dive.

“Their stocks are dwindling,” DeSantis explained. “The grocery stores don’t have enough to keep up.”

Fortunately, Marion Polk Food Share, from whom SACA gets a significant amount of their foodstuffs, has continued their supply, though to a diminished degree.

“We’re trying to balance enough food for people but make our stocks last,” DeSantis said. “We’re trying to be as generous as possible but trying to make this last as long as possible.”

And that generosity may be stretched thinner as the federal poverty guidelines for food assistance increases on March 30 – per a previously scheduled mandate – from income eligibility based on 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 300 percent.

“This means we’ll be able to provide food to a lot more people,” DeSantis said, “which is incredibly fortuitous given the current situation (if we can maintain a food supply).”

But that “if” indeed remains to be seen as SACA has been already been forced to forgo all supplies of personal hygiene items – shampoo, soap and toilet paper  – due to a lack of donated materials.

“We may have to continue adjusting our guidelines if our food donations continue to decline over the next weeks and months,” DeSantis said. “Even with that, we don’t know how long we’ll be able to sustain our community, because we don’t know how long this will all go on.”

And food isn’t the only resource SACA is concerned about conserving because, although DeSantis predicts an uptick in those seeking assistance in the form of a weekly food supply, she expects to see an even bigger jump in the number of people applying for financial help.

“Once more and more people are not working as much, once people get their bills and can’t pay them anymore, that’s when we’re going to get hit,” she predicted. “It’s going to be – how do we keep up with that?”

One way will be through monetary donations, which DeSantis said are helpful, not only for those seeking financial assistance but also for the purchase of necessary food items to restock SACA’s pantry.

“As much as I hate to ask for money, that’s probably best because we can make money stretch more than other people can,” DeSantis said. “And donations are going to be really critical over the long-haul.”

Monetary donations are also helpful in limiting the germ exposure of SACA’s employees and volunteers, who are handling food donations at an increased rate due to new policies put into place this past week.

“We have moved all food distribution outside,” DeSantis described. “Staff and a small group of volunteers are the only people allowed in the facility to prep food bags/boxes.”

This increased workload on staff has led SACA to cut back on hours and increase the number of workers per shift wherever possible, putting a strain on an already dwindling number of volunteers.

“I’ve tried to impress upon staff and volunteers that their safety and well-being is as important as the work we are doing,” DeSantis said. “I understand and fully support any employee or volunteer who isn’t comfortable coming to work
at SACA.”

But they aren’t the only ones deciding to forgo a trip to SACA. DeSantis speculates there may be an entire population of people falling into the category “the most at risk,” who are unable or unwilling to make the journey to pick up groceries or apply for financial help. But for them, DeSantis offers a simple solution.

“People can authorize a representative to come and pick up food or assistance for them,” she urged. “And, especially people who are not comfortable coming to us, neighbor to neighbor help is great. Or call us and we can talk about different things.”

Sheltering Silverton
While SACA’s services have been forced to change – from a grocery store style pantry to a food tent outside – for the Sheltering Silverton staff, things have remained relatively stable.

“I haven’t seen a change (yet) in the number of people being seen since the beginning of the pandemic,” Emily Neves, the Data Intake and Resource Center Coordinator and Homeless Advocate at Sheltering Silverton, said, “but I am fully expecting to see an increase in clients in the coming months as we go through economic crisis and people are unable to work.”

And much of that increase, Neves maintains, will be due to a delicate balance many households were already experiencing due to the high cost of living in Silverton, where the median housing price is $350,000 (according to Zillow).

“Housing is so expensive in our area, that many people already live on the fringe of homelessness,” Neves said. “We often see housed individuals come to the resource center needing additional financial help to maintain their housing because of just one unfortunate event, such as a car repair or unexpected health care expense, that limits their ability to afford rent that month.”

Therefore, although the Warming Shelter run by Sheltering Silverton from November through March 17 is now closed for the summer months, employees have continued to meet with their clients through the phone or over the internet in order to keep abreast of any change in need – including that of increased hygiene assistance after the closure of the YMCA’s daily shower program.

“This is an understandable decision that will impact our clients’ ability to take showers regularly” Sarah White, Director of Sheltering Silverton, said. She added that although showering has been removed as an option for full-body cleanliness, a new hand-hygiene option was added by the City of Silverton who provided a porta-potty and hand-washing station at the Silverton Community Center.

“This is helpful to allow regular hand washing for people who lack access to a bathroom,” White stressed.

To combat their clients’ hunger, on the steps of the Community Center, Silverton Sheltering has begun providing daily sack lunches at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

“We are focused on scaling back the breadth of our services to focus on supporting survival in this time,” White explained.

“We hope to help people get the basic camping supplies they need to live safely, feed themselves, and lay low while the community practices social distancing. We plan to continue checking in with our clients about safely accessing physical and mental health care. We suspect that domestic violence will increase during this crisis and we are preparing to respond to the need individuals and families will have to find safe shelter or housing to escape those situations.”

In the meantime, White is encouraging community members to come together to help their unhoused and/or hungry neighbors, possibly by stocking Little Free Libraries with shelf-stable snacks, thereby offering both convenience and anonymity to those who desire it.

“I would certainly encourage hand sanitizer use wherever people are having that kind of surface contact,” White suggested. “Helpful food items are peanut butter, tuna, pull top soups, fresh fruit, sandwiches, and other soft, shelf-stable foods. LFL’s in remote neighborhoods would likely not get traffic, but those close to the downtown core would. If we know of anything that is active, we could share that information with our clients.”

But more than anything, White wants to thank the community that has supported – and continues to support – all of Silverton’s aid organizations and to encourage people to, in this barrage of negative news, look to the good.

“More than anything, coronavirus has revealed that across the world, people want to respond to each other with compassion, creative collaboration and problem solving, and a sense of responsibility for our collective well-being,” White emphasized. “While this pandemic and its economic fallout will certainly impact our clients and the broader community in ways we’re only just anticipating, it is certainly a beautiful time as well. We are trying to stay focused on that. The outpouring of support for our clients and our team have been heartening.”

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