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‘Ongoing Need’

Salvation Army Sees Spike In Families Seeking Assistance

Workers of The Salvation Army in Jamestown are pictured Monday morning unloading food, including chicken noodle soup, tomato sauce and canned fruit. The organization's food pantry served 300 more households in March than on average, most likely due to layoffs associated with the coronavirus pandemic. P-J photos by Eric Tichy

The number of families seeking food assistance from the Jamestown branch of The Salvation Army has spiked during the coronavirus pandemic.

Elizabeth Margarito, emergency basic needs supervisor, said in March the local Salvation Army served an additional 300 households than on average. She said the organization found a “direct correlation” between the spike and the virus, which has forced businesses to close and lay off many of its workers.

With one of the largest food pantries in the county, the number of families seeking food assistance from The Salvation Army has only increased in the past few weeks. The pantry is open Monday through Friday, once in the morning and again in the evening.

“A lot of people were trying to hang on with a part-time job or two, and a lot of those jobs are now gone,” Margarito told The Post-Journal. “We are seeing a lot of people who are struggling right now.”

The Salvation Army was recently named the recipient of a grant through the Chautauqua County Crisis Response Fund, organized by the United Ways of Chautauqua County, along with the Chautauqua Region and Northern Chautauqua Community Foundations. The second round of funding, totaling about $76,000 and announced last week, will go to The Salvation Army of Jamestown and Dunkirk and Chautauqua Opportunities.

Dorothy Carlson and Ken Kendall of the Mental Health Association are pictured loading food into a van to be delivered Monday. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

In addition to outside funding coming in, Margarito said individuals from the community have reached out about donating items for the food pantry. She said the organization is thankful for the outreach, and noted that items in need include bar soap, rice, canned fruit, toothpaste, diapers, canned meats and soup, condiments and flour and sugar.

“We are just trying to make sure we keep our pantry stocked. This is an ongoing need,” Margarito said.

A couple of times a week, food is bought from local stores to keep the pantry stocked. That included Monday morning, when a pickup truck-worth of food including chicken noodle soup, tomato sauce and canned fruit was unloaded at The Salvation Army’s 83 S. Main St. location in Jamestown.

Margarito said buying supplies has become more difficult as more stores are limiting the number of essentials that can be purchased at one time. She did say that some stores have loosened its restrictions for the nonprofit organization.

Elsewhere, the Dunkirk-based Chautauqua County Rural Ministries said it has seen a 75% increase at its soup kitchen since Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued his “NYS on PAUSE.”

“We were not prepared for it at first,” said Kathy Peterson, Rural Ministries executive director. “We had the food, but we lacked take-out containers and disposables such as napkins and silverware.”

Luckily, a local business came to the aid, fronting the organization with supplies.

“We normally allow people to just go through and take what they need, but due to the social distancing issues we’ve switched to prepacked bags,” Peterson said. “Each family or person receives enough meals for five days at three times a day. … We typically serve about 5,500 people. In the month of March we served 10,000. Forty-one percent of them were from loss of job and income due to COVID-19.”

Peterson shared that although it has been challenging, with 95% of their volunteers stepping back and running on a skeleton crew of nine individuals, the public itself has been quite helpful. People, businesses and churches have sent donations and called up asking if they needed anything.

“Currently the big things needed are the disposables for meals, like to-go containers and utensils, but non-perishable items are always needed,” Peterson said. “We don’t know how long this is going to go on for, but right now we’re doing all right.”

Meanwhile, the Chautauqua Mall announced it is partnering with The Salvation Army and Chautauqua County Humane Society to host a food and essential item donation drive daily through May 16.

Mall officials said area residents can drop off non-perishable food items, diapers, toilet paper, soap, school supplies and dog and cat food each day between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Bins have been placed outside the main entrance next to Planet Fitness.

“We are happy to be working with the Chautauqua Mall and Salvation Army to collect donations of non-perishable goods,” said Brian Papalia, director of Community Relations for Chautauqua County Humane Society. “Our collaborations with Chautauqua Mall have always been successful and we are excited to see the community benefit from this food drive.”

Jo Ward contributed to this story.

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