Pantry 279 in Ellettsville distributed over 2400 Thanksgiving boxes at the Hoosier Hills Food Bank over the weekend. Cindy Chavez, Executive Director of Pantry 279, said the meals will feed 16,000-19,000 people in the surrounding area.
The pantry raised 30,000-dollars, and had a matching donation for the Thanksgiving meals distributed this year. Chavez said the pantry even had some overseas friends.
Food insecurity has gone up dramatically in the region served by Pantry 279 (and the entire United States) since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, and the National Guard has been helping distribute food for months. But, this year, the pantry outgrew the facilities at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Ellettsville.
“People are now having their water shut off for non payment because they can’t afford this massive bill. Same thing with electricity. Same thing with rent. A lot of families who don’t are living out of their car, so they’re asking for food that is non perishable,” said Chavez.
“We’re having a lot of people ask for water, bottled water, because the only water they have … they’re drinking it out of streams and ponds that are local. And sometimes they get sick from that. So and then electricity, I mean, if they don’t have a refrigerator to keep stuff in, you have to have non perishable (food) if you don’t have a stove to cook on, once again, you need stuff that you can just eat directly out of a can or something’s pre made,” said Chavez.
Chavez said the pantry saw a drop in the number of people needing food after the extra 600-dollars per week unemployment began earlier in the pandemic, but after the extra payments stopped the need increased again. People have depleted their savings, and the number of people needing food has gone up every month since September. Chavez said many who have full time jobs are having their hours cut.
“In March before COVID started, we were at about 3000 people a month. And by April, we were close to 5000, by May we were at 5000. And then in September climbed again to 6000, October 6500 … November we’ll probably do 7000, if you don’t include all this Thanksgiving stuff,” said Chavez.
Many are already newly homeless because of the economic disruption caused by the pandemic, according to Chavez, “I’m sure you’ve seen the tents around downtown, people will find places behind buildings. I know in Martinsville and Mooresville, they’ll park their cars in parking lots under lights to try to stay safe, and just lock the door and try to sleep there because the police over there pretty lenient, and let them sleep there overnight. Bloomington is a little bit harsher. They don’t like that as much so they try to find tents, or they go around and hide behind buildings, or they hide in woods or something like that. And they’re just basically living in their cars.”
Now, not only are more people asking for food, they are asking for clean water as utilities have been getting shut off. Chavez told The Bloomingtonian that some have reported getting water from rivers, creeks, and ponds, and getting sick.
A statewide Indiana moratorium on disconnecting utilities ended in late August, and many have had their water shut off, according to Chavez.
Area residents without clean water to drink aren’t just from the Bloomington area, but a look at the City of Bloomington website revealed that, “Most drinking fountains in city parks were not turned on in 2020, due to concerns related to spreading coronavirus through public use of the fountains.” And water in city restrooms has now been shut off in preparation for winter.
“So they’re going out and trying to get water from gas stations or getting water from creeks. They’re getting water from lakes. And that’s not clean water, gas station water’s fine, but not from creeks and ponds. This is the stuff people are telling you when they come to the
pantry ‘cause they’re asking for water. ‘Do you have any water? Can I have a case cause my water got shut off? And I’ve been drinking from a stream and I’ve got diarrhea.’ So I mean, I’m sure the hospital is probably seeing a little bit of this too, because if it’s severe enough, you’ve got to go to the hospital,” said Chavez.
Chavez said out of the 1,000 to 1,400 families the pantry is feeding every week she estimates at least 200 of them don’t have access to clean drinking water.
Chavez said she’s hoping a new stimulus bill can help people catch up on owed rent and house payments, and that she wishes utility companies would back off on disconnecting water. But, Chavez said the division in the country hasn’t helped, and that she’s seeing people helping each other less now than at the start of the pandemic.
“If we return to some of the conditions we had in March, when it first happened, where people were helping each other out a little bit more, that might help. It’s gonna require a community and a nation to bond together and quit arguing over silly stuff like politics, and help each other out and realize we’re all people, whether we’re Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or whatever. That’s what it’s gonna take,” said Chavez.
Meanwhile the State of Indiana cut off unemployment extension payments November 14th. A note on the Indiana Workforce Development page reads, “The last payable week for Extended Benefits in Indiana is week ending Nov. 14, 2020. If you have an EB claim with money remaining on it, Indiana cannot pay you for any week past November 14 per state and federal law.”
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits end December 26, 2020.
Many workers at Indiana University will be furloughed over the holidays, and some are also expected to seek unemployment.
Many companies that sought Payroll Protection (PPP) funds, which were intended to help businesses retain employees and stay in business, are now filing for bankruptcy. At the same time, Bloomington’s local economy is heavily dependent on service industry jobs, but IU student move out day is Monday, and many students will not come bank until next semester, if there are in person classes starting in February.
The Indiana State Department of Health has posted thousands of new COVID cases daily for the past several days.
Pantry 279 will be open and distributing food Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. at the Ellettsville location:
501 E. Temperance Ellettsville, IN 47429
Over 500 Thanksgiving boxes will be delivered Monday, and the Pantry needs volunteers to help with deliveries.