This is the second in a series of stories about how stress is impacting Chatham County during COVID-19. According to research conducted by BodyNutrition.org, North Carolina is the …
Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to the News + Record – you can do so by clicking here.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories about how stress is impacting Chatham County during COVID-19. According to research conducted by BodyNutrition.org, North Carolina is the third-most stressed state in the country.
The notion of food insecurity — not knowing where your next meal might come from — is stressful enough, but the COVID-19 pandemic has packed a double whammy at the Chatham Outreach Alliance: a record number of new clients, many of whom have never sought assistance before, and a smaller group of staff and volunteers working to answer the call.
The Chatham Outreach Alliance (CORA) has the mission of providing food to individuals and families within the Chatham community who are in need. Many in the community are facing hardships due to the pandemic — which has left people umemployed, stressed and in need of assistance. CORA’s Summer Nutritional Assistance for Chatham Kids Program (SNACK!) helps to provide relief to those searching for meals for their children through biweekly food distribution during the summer months. These distribution events occur in Siler City, Moncure, Pittsboro and Goldston.
According to CORA, 50% of public school children in Chatham County receive free or reduced meals through the federal school lunch program because their household income is at or near the poverty level. And this summer, more than 4,300 school children in Chatham County will not have adequate replacements for these meals during the summer of this year.
According to staff, the need for CORA’s help has seen an increase.
“We’ve seen more new clients in a short period of time than ever in our history,” said Executive Director Melissa Beard. “So many people are coming into the system that have never had to use any kind of assistance. They don’t even know where to begin. It’s extremely traumatic for them.”
Beard said she often thinks about the stressful situation clients might be in.
“You can only imagine what they are dealing with when they’re having to come to us for the first time,” she said. “How bad has it gotten? What are you balancing that you can no longer afford food? If you’ve ever gone through John Moore’s COPE simulation and you think about all the different trade-offs that there are, it’s just incredibly stressful. You’re thinking about food, daycare or transportation. It’s a big cause-and-effect.”
The staff at the SNACK! Program are not only trying to mitigate stress for others, but they are coping with “superior amounts” of stress as well — working “well beyond double” and trying to find food to distribute as the pandemic has caused a shortage.
“Normally in the summer, even though it’s busy at CORA because of SNACK!, we would work with 20 or 21 distribution sites but we would basically take the food to those sites and that was when our work was done,” Beard said. “This year, instead of hundreds of volunteers being involved at 20 sites all over the community, it’s a small core group of volunteers at five sites and staff.”
“It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that we have a core group of about seven or eight staff members for the summer doing what literally a couple hundred people used to do. To say we’re stressed out is kinda an understatement.”
Beard said the lack of volunteers stems from her worry about exposing others to COVID-19.
“I’ve been really reluctant to use volunteers because the numbers just keep going up,” she said. “I don’t want to be responsible for any of our volunteers getting sick or God forbid — something worse happening. I don’t want anyone from outside bringing it in and making any of my staff sick. I feel like I’m responsible for keeping everyone safe and healthy as much as I can.”
However, Beard said she is grateful for the people who are working right now.
She said: “Everyone’s jumped in and they’ve been great. Nobody complains. It’s a really good group, there’s a lot of good comraderie. The volunteers that we are working with are so hardcore and fantastic and committed to the mission.”
At the SNACK! distribution event at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro last week, volunteers and staff came together to give each child a box of dry and canned goods, a box of fresh produce and a family meal from Pittsboro Roadhouse. Families drive through the site, never getting out of their car as the volunteers fill the trunk with the boxes.
“We pack up the boxes with two weeks’ worth of meals.” said SNACK! Intern Meredith Katibah. “Those boxes have anything from canned vegetables to pasta and spaghetti sauce as well as snack foods like chips and crackers.”
Greg Lewis, owner of Pittsboro Roadhouse, said he got involved in the SNACK! Program to help with the food insecurity that the county is facing.
“There are families out of work that COVID has affected,” he said. “There’s just a need. There’s poverty everywhere — different levels of it. Folks get up and wonder what they’re going to feed their kids for dinner. This helps alleviate that stress for them.”
Registration is required for the SNACK! Program. You can register online or on site. For more information, go to: https://www.corafoodpantry.org/our-work/snack/
Stay tuned next week for final part of this series. In addition, be on the lookout for an interactive digital project on the topic.