Plateau Outreach Ministries is reporting a surge in the number of people requiring food or financial aid during the first full month of the COVID-19 shutdown.
According to the Enumclaw-based nonprofit, nearly $27,500 in emergency financial assistance was provided to residents of Enumclaw, Buckley, Black Diamond, Ravensdale, Green River, Carbonado, Selleck, Wilkeson, and Burnett in April 2020.
That’s a 133 percent increase over April 2019, said Executive Director Elisha Smith-Marshall, when POM provided just over $11,700 to local residents in need.
“It’s been very busy,” Smith-Marshall said in a May 13 phone interview. “We’re missing our volunteers, so all the staff is pretty much doing all of it. They’re amazing.”
POM’s food bank has also seen a spike in the poundage of food being provided, and the number of families coming by.
In April 2019, nearly 10,000 pounds of food was given to 262 households; last month, more than 21,500 pounds of food went to 351 households, a 122 percent increase.
Smith-Marshall said this trend is only expected to continue.
“I was just looking at the first week of [May], and it’s looking like… we did $7,000 in emergency assistance last week alone,” she said. “The need is there.”
In fact, the need is everywhere — according to Feeding America, one in seven Americans relied on food banks before the pandemic. Now, food banks are estimating that need has doubled, or even tripled, an April 24 Reuters article reported. Other news agencies are reporting food banks are exceeding their budgets by millions in order to continue supporting their clients.
Fortunately, POM hasn’t reached that point, but only because its community has rallied together to continue providing food and funds to those who need it.
“Usually our monthly donations, the highest amount of food that comes in is typically from Northwest Harvest. This month, only 38 percent of the food that came in was from Northwest Harvest, and 62 percent of the donations we had come in were from the community,” Smith-Marshall said. “The community has most definitely stepped up and is filling a huge gap for us.”
But this doesn’t mean POM doesn’t have its own financial difficulties to deal with. With the additional need for emergency financial assistance and its thrift store, More Pennies From Heaven, still closed, the nonprofit is expecting an $80,000 budget shortfall.
This figure, which is only an estimate, includes the assumption that POM will be unable to host its annual fall auction, an event that brings in around $45,000 every year. It also accounts for the additional $20,000 the city of Enumclaw donated to POM, and the roughly $34,000 raised for the organization for the annual Give Big event.
Smith-Marshall said POM does have some reserves that it can rely on, and if they end up having a budget shortfall, the organization would ramp up its fundraising efforts rather than raise prices at its thrift store.
She also noted it’s not clear when More Pennies From Heaven will be able to open up, and even when it does, there are still questions as to how the thrift store can operate safely in a post-COVID-19 world.
In response to the closed store, which normally brings in enough revenue to cover POM’s operating costs (meaning all donations from the public go straight to food bank and financial assistance programs), the nonprofit is ramping up its efforts to maintain its eBay store.
To check out what items More Pennies From Heaven is selling, you can head to their eBay webpage at https://www.ebay.com/usr/morepennies or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/morepenniesfromheaven/.
HOW TO RECEIVE SERVICES
POM offers myriad services to Plateau residents, from providing food to helping pay rent and various utility bills.
Normally, there are a few restrictions on who can receive aid — for example, prospective clients would usually provide a “final notice” bill or a “notice of eviction” in order to receive financial aid.
Those requirements have been waived in the face of the novel coronavirus, allowing a larger group of people to access POM’s programs.
To request financial aid, you can call 360-825-8961 on Mondays and Thursdays between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m., or Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3 to speak with a case manager; appointments can be made for working families.
Case management work is being done over the phone, and Smith-Marshall said it’s best to fill out paperwork and email it to email@example.com. If that is not possible, paperwork can be filled out over the phone.
Food bank hours are Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Those who wish to receive food are required to give their address and the number of people in their household.
For those needing emergency food, POM asks that you call to schedule a time during any day except Sunday to come by and speak with a staff member.