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Filling A Need

Salvation Army Assisting Hundreds During Pandemic

Workers with The Salvation Army are pictured in April unloading food at the organization’s 83 S. Main St. location in Jamestown. In August, about 900 families were assisted by the nonprofit. P-J photos by Eric Tichy

Hundreds of families continue to receive food assistance from The Salvation Army in Jamestown amid a pandemic that has the organization planning for the possibility that more may have to seek help.

Elizabeth Margarito, Salvation Army emergency basic needs supervisor, estimates that 900 households locally received food assistance in August through one of several programs offered, including its food pantry. She did note that assistance typically increases over the summer.

In March, The Salvation Army reported that 300 additional households had been assisted than on average. The spike, the nonprofit said at the time, was directly linked to the outbreak of COVID-19, which impacted businesses and caused the county’s unemployment rate to nearly triple in one month.

Margarito said the local Salvation Army, located at 83 S. Main St., Jamestown, assisted an estimated 790 families in April, a month into the pandemic. However, in June, she said about 481 families received food help.

The rise from those seeking food assistance followed by a dip matches data from the Chautauqua County Department of Social Services on applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — which issues electronic benefits that can be used like cash to purchase food. The county said it received 784 applications for SNAP benefits in April compared to 695 in April 2019.

Those seeking SNAP benefits then dropped significantly in May, June and July of this year. That coincided with the federal stimulus program in response to the coronavirus that provided an additional $600 in unemployment benefits.

Margarito said the enhanced benefits many received as a result of COVID-19 likely caused the drop seen between May and July at The Salvation Army. With many of those benefits either gone or reduced, she expects more families to seek food assistance.

And with so many unknowns regarding the pandemic, she said The Salvation Army is looking to “stay ahead.”

“We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak,” she said. “We’re just going on the assumption that we haven’t seen the full scope yet. We’re trying to figure out if we have enough if there’s an uptick. We’re just moving through and trying to stay ahead.”

The Salvation Army’s food pantry, the largest in the county, is open Monday through Friday. Margarito said the organization has been “very blessed” with a strong core of volunteers who have been “assisting since Day 1 with COVID.”

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