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Opinion | America’s Other Front Line

As a case manager for a nonprofit that serves older adults, veterans and adults with disabilities in Texas, I’ve seen social services move online as a way to more efficiently get assistance to people without exposing them to the virus. And yet, this only exacerbates the digital divide. Many of my clients don’t even have a phone. And yet, in the few communities where rental assistance or Covid vaccines are available, the application process is online. As a result, many of my clients feel invisible and unimportant. The decisions our representatives make today will have impacts a decade from now. I hope they choose not to give up on the people who need them the most. — Kendra Hessel, financial and housing stability case manager, Family Eldercare, Austin, Texas

Despite the eviction moratorium, homelessness and its catalyst, housing instability, have been on the rise in Southern California. Our agency is receiving over 200 direct solicitations for rental assistance per month, more than double the rate at this time last year. At the same time that we have been asked to stay at home and shelter in place, traditional shelter and housing resources for persons experiencing homelessness have receded. Mass shelter settings are simply too great a risk for many of the clients we serve, including those who are elderly or immuno-compromised. — John Paul Bryan, grants and data manager, Mercy House Living Centers, Orange County, Calif.

Since March 2020, we have distributed over 15.1 million pounds of food to nearly a quarter of a million people, and those numbers continue to rise. I recently spoke with Sherrie, who picked up a box of food at a distribution. She and her family — her husband and two children — have had bad luck since the pandemic. Sherrie, her son and daughter are all laid off from work, and her husband, who requires dialysis three times per week, also needs insulin.

“We’ve had to take out high-interest loans just for groceries and gas,” Sherrie said. “This box of food means we won’t be spending so much on groceries this month. I can buy my husband’s insulin and he won’t have to miss doses.” Sherrie’s story is unfortunately not unique. So many families have had hours cut at work or lost jobs and need just a little hand up. — Jaime Thomas, director of communications and marketing, Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland, Elizabethtown, Ky.

Since the coronavirus crisis began, our six organizations have seen the need for emergency food relief climb to unprecedented levels. From August through November last year, we served over 10.5 million meals to New Yorkers in need — more than double what we served during the same period in 2019, and far more than we served during the first four months of the crisis. As we look ahead to the vaccine rollout, we know it will still be many months before New York City’s economy has any hope of full recovery — especially for those who work in the service sector, where we have seen profound levels of need and precarity. — Stephen Grimaldi, executive director, New York Common Pantry, and Greg Silverman, executive director, West Side Campaign Against Hunger, on behalf of the New York City Frontline Food Collaborative, New York

In some rural areas, the need for food support continues to increase. Mobile pantries we’ve recently hosted in Evart, Mich. (population 1,793), have served nearly 100 more families than the ones we hosted a few months ago. Pandemic-related closures, like at a glass factory that employed over 100 people, have intensified the need for food in areas that already have few employers. A woman recently called one of our partners near Evart and said she and her husband couldn’t afford food because they had to purchase new glasses. She’s among many who have never before faced hunger but are now seeking food assistance. — Molly Kooi, communication manager, Feeding America West Michigan, Comstock Park, Mich.

Every day, our frontline social workers support families who are already below or near the poverty line. As each day passes, bills are piling up. Many are displaced workers who would use relief funding to pay their rent, feed their families and keep their utility payments from spiraling out of control. For many, the economic anxiety has translated into emotional anxiety and depression. Fear of illness, social isolation, economic insecurity, disruption of routine and loss of loved ones have become chronic mental health issues, especially among young adults. — Celeste Matheson, director of development and marketing, Center for Youth and Family Solutions, Peoria, Ill.

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