Food pantries see jump in need among seniors during pandemic

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) Seniors are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to COVID-19. But the pandemic has put older Americans at risk in other ways as well. Local food pantries are trying to fill the void.

“There are seniors, what we call shut-ins, that kind of fall through the cracks,” said John Roberts at Mountain Mission in Charleston.

Since the pandemic Mountain Mission has recorded a 60% jump in the number of people over 62-years old who requesting help. Often those individuals are making the choice between eating and paying bills.

“Some of it is food. Some of it is utility services. Some of it is medication. You know that is kind of tough,” Roberts said.

Isolation has been a significant factor. Seniors who used to get help from loved ones or neighbors have found themselves cut off from resources because of fears of spreading the virus.

“Seniors are pretty much living on what they have always lived on but then a reduction in support,” said Vicki Ballengee at Heart and Hand Outreach Ministry in South Charleston, WV. Her organization saw a shift as well. “A lot of times we weren’t seeing the families with children because they did have other resources, SNAP benefits being higher and the schools providing food and things like that. Then there were these people who had never needed help before and seniors and people with a fixed income not necessarily benefitting from anything that was going on.”

They’ve also had to change some of the ways they serve seniors.

“God forbid that somebody would come out just trying to get food and get sick with this terrible virus so we are trying to be unique in the way that we help people,” Roberts said.

Both groups are working with seniors to process their requests for help over the phone.

“We’ve learned to use technology even better,” Ballengee said. “If we need a copy of an electric bill we are now taking pictures and that is being texted or sent through email or Messenger.”

They are also changing the ways they distribute the food to keep seniors as safe as possible.

Even before COVID-19 more seniors were finding themselves raising grandchildren and great grandchildren often times without receiving any additional benefits from government programs.

Both organizations said the community has stepped up to help them meet the need but they are always seeking additional support.

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