The challenges the COVID-19 pandemic is creating for many Americans are nothing new to those already struggling with chronic poverty.
“Life didn’t just now get hard for these people, life has been hard for them for a long time,” said Anna Anderson, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel.
The lack of transportation, lack of nearby healthcare facilities and lack of nearby grocery stores are challenges that those who Anderson ministers to in rural Conetoe, North Carolina face.
However, there is an increased awareness around these issues during the pandemic, she said.
“Particularly with children not being in school right now, there’s a positive awareness and people are trying to get food to those families,” she said. “I think that’s really good.”
But there are challenges when trying to do ministry that typically requires face-to-face interaction, she said.
“Our work is centered around building relationships with people and it’s hard for us to do that right now.”
Migrant worker communities have been especially hard hit, said Ellen Burnette, CBF field personnel and executive director of Cultivate Abundance in Fort Myers, Florida.
Many migrant farm workers face food insecurity and depend on food bank programs to eat. These food banks are dependent on the excess from grocery stores and since some grocers have experienced a shortage, the farm workers are experiencing hunger, Burnette explained.
“The people that pick our food don’t have enough food to eat themselves,” she said.
Not only are the poor facing food insecurity, there’s also the lack of shelter, said Dave Robinson, interim pastor at Grace Baptist Church in San Jose, California.
“It’s a Catch-22. People are expected to shelter in place, but they have no place to shelter,” he said.
San Jose, located in Santa Clara County, has a fiscal disparity issue, Robinson said.
“A high-tech area of the country is left with no way to take care of their homeless. It’s heartbreaking.”
Grace Solutions, a nonprofit organization, provides shelter and services to the homeless population in the Grace Baptist building.
“People don’t really understand the homeless issue. They just think someone is in the corner with a bunch of stuff and think about how awful it looks,” said Phil Mastrocola, executive director of Grace Solutions.
But the issue is deeper than that because these people have nowhere to go, Mastrocola explained.
Grace Solutions is open 24 hours a day and offers meals, an overnight shelter with 50 beds, laundry facilities and shower facilities.
“We’re here. We’re doing our own version of the shelter in place,” Mastrocola said.
It’s important for the homeless population to seek indoor shelter during the pandemic, he added.
“They’re going to pick up germs at the public bathrooms, or on the door handles of the 7-Eleven or wherever they go.”
Grace Solutions has expanded its cleaning protocols as well as intake procedures. The shelter has moved beds eight feet apart and requires masks and temperature checks at intake. The facility has also suspended communal meals for now.
“People are extremely cooperative. Everybody is taking this very seriously. They get it,” Mastrocola said.
Six months or a year from now, the pandemic-induced crises impacting vulnerable populations could be substantial, Anderson said.
“I’m concerned,” she said. “These are people who were living on the edge of the cliff all the time anyway.”
Anderson said she will continue to adjust her ministry efforts as needs evolve.
“We’re learning how to fly the plane as we take off, which is not much of a change of how this type of ministry has always been.”
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