A year later: how local charities met increased need during pandemic

Updated: Mar. 17, 2021 at 1:55 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - When it comes to COVID and charities, the pandemic increased the need over the last year. We take a look at how agencies got food to people who needed it most.

One year ago when thousands of north country families found themselves short on grocery money, local food pantries had to act fast.

“Usually we have weeks, months to plan, and we didn’t have that. We had hours to plan,” said Claudia Whitmire, Community Action Planning Council deputy director.

As the number of people in need of help skyrocketed so did creativity.

Local non profits came up with pre-packed food boxes, drive-thru drop-offs, new partnerships, new hours, and new compassion.

“It’s a great impact. There’s so much need, I can’t even tell you,” said a woman who got a donation.

“We did 4,027 families in 2019. In 2020, we served 10,131 families,” said Whitmire.

But at a time when all hands should be on deck, it wasn’t always easy to get volunteers.

At the Lowville Food Pantry, they managed throughout the pandemic with only a handful of workers.

“I had a core group of about 8-10, when we normally have around 20-25,” said Daniel Taylor, Lowville Food Pantry CEO.

Taylor says his team was able to provide what they needed to provide, but it was emotionally draining.

“The most taxing is seeing your friends and family needing the help to make it through,” he said.

Charity workers say, although there was an incredible increase in need, they were able to provide for everyone through the generosity of others.

“Almost on a daily basis we had people at the door saying, ‘I want to make a donation.” We had people saying, ‘I don’t need this stimulus money, but I know you guys could use it,’” said Whitmire.

United Way of Northern New York CEO Jamie Cox says it has been an eye-opening experience.

“Donations in 2020 were phenominal. There was no shortage of incredible generosity in our community. Whether you’ve broken out your wallet or purse, whether you unloaded boxed from a semi truck for a food delivery, every single one of you have changed lives,” he said.

That generosity, he says, has helped his organization distribute 2.5 million items to 32 different towns, villages and schools in our tri-county region.

<Person gerring donation: Thank you isnt enough.>

So now that things are turning a corner. What’s next for these non profits?

“The United Way is really starting to focus on that next higher level of care - mental health, substance abuse,” said Cox.

They say they’ll continue improving food distribution because as long as there is need, they will be there with a smile and a helping hand.

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