North Central WV donation services experience push and pull from pandemic

Coronavirus
clarksburg mission thanksgiving.jpg

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Since the lockdown from COVID-19 was implemented, local donation services have become highly adaptable to fill their communities’ needs while preparing for a future rise in cases.

While government assistance in the form of stimulus checks and unemployment helped some, others were still facing uncertainty. In turn, this saw more residents pursue assistance than usual.

Shannon Cunningham-Snead, executive director of Central West Virginia Community Action (CWVCA), says the number of people seeking their services peaked in March.

“The amount of customers we had coming into the food pantry went up high then leveled off,” said Cunningham-Snead.

In some ways, donation services have not differed from the rest of the public on how they handled lockdown. The Goodwill in Morgantown put up plexiglass in front of cash registers to protect their employees and signs to direct customers around the store like many grocery stores have done. The United Way of Harrison County, Inc. held meetings over Zoom and sheltered at home when possible.

Unlike the rest of the public however, donation services were desperately needed by their communities, which meant adapting to change quickly to still be effective. Many places like United Way and CWVCA focused their immediate efforts on taking in and distributing food. For the homeless shelter at the Clarksburg Mission, this meant converting more of their property into liveable zones.

“We realized we had to space beds out farther and make things more hygienic,” said Lou Ortenzio, executive director of the Mission. “We took our resale store and turned that into residential housing areas.”

The Clarksburg Mission shut down their thrift store to create more bed space.

Because their store was repurposed, it halted one of the shelter’s most important ways to receive and distribute donations. They have recently opened up donations for clothing, belts, purses and shoes, but not furniture and other household items. For those being housed by the shelter, their movements had to be restricted to limit the spread of the virus. This also meant barring those who left from coming back in. They had to stop taking in new people for some time as well.

However, a unique way these services are helping their communities throughout the pandemic is through monetary means. The Salvation Army in Clarksburg directly uses the money donated to them to help pay electric bills of those in need. CWVCA has done the same and similar. Their measures also include trying to locate federal money given to donation services to coordinate and fill in gaps where their community needs it most.

Cunningham-Snead foresees many people having to seek assistance for the first time ever as the months go on, what she refers to as “delayed impacts” from lockdown. As rent, utilities and other protections under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expire, the future could be in the balance for many.

“Utility companies will have the option to act on shut off notices starting in August,” says Cunningham-Snead. “People have also received eviction notices months ago, but nothing has happened yet.”

Along with this, donation services are preparing for a possible future lockdown with the rise in COVID-19 cases. United Way of Harrison County executive director Tina Yoke predicts “an increased number of households that are going to need assistance with food security.”

Yet, the community involvement surrounding these donation services has been well received. The United Way hosted two food drives that were “very successful.” Along with this, everyone who pledged money to the organization has kept their promises. The Mission has received many donations of clothes from people cleaning out their closets, which serve a broader range of people nationally too. The Clarksburg Salvation Army has also seen a small, but noticeable increase in sales since they opened as well.

United Way Day of Action Food Drive on June 19, 2020

Although the future is hazy, donation services are continuing to support their communities as much as they can to help the current situation and be there for any future ones as well.

“We are going to stay in the loop so we can stay responsive,” said Cunningham-Snead.

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