Need for food assistance increases in county

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Dubois Middle School Principal Ryan Case carries cartons of dyed Easter eggs while loading the buses with food at Northeast Dubois High School in Dubois on Tuesday. This is the second week that the Northeast Dubois buses drove their normal routes to deliver groceries to families in need.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Northeast Dubois bus driver Tony Quinn, 67, donned a surgical mask, fired up his bus and drove his route Tuesday afternoon to deliver bags of groceries and cartons of brightly colored Easter eggs to families in need along his bus route.

This is the second week Quinn and his fellow bus drivers have driven their routes to distribute bags of food packed by plastic-gloved school volunteers to kids in need during the school shutdown brought on by COVID-19.

“I never thought I’d see this in America,” Quinn said. “This is a tough thing. A lot of people didn’t think much of it, but it’s bad.”

The food comes from donations and products the school gets through the United States Department of Agriculture school lunch programs. Last week, Quinn delivered 11 of the 97 bags of food Northeast Dubois distributed to families. To get a bag of food, one person from the family needs to be at the school bus stop when the bus comes by at the same time it would if school were in session. No sign-up is needed. The bus driver sets the bag of food on the bus stairs, then opens the doors so the person can take the bag. Quinn does his best to keep his distance as the families along his route pick up their bags. At 67 years old, catching COVID-19 is a concern for him, but not one that will stop him from doing what he can to help others.

The county’s other school corporations — Greater Jasper, Southeast Dubois and Southwest Dubois — are also providing food for families in need within their districts during the school closures. Families can contact their child’s school for details.

At Greater Jasper, Food Service Director Katie Knies said she and school volunteers are running a food pickup at Jasper High School every Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with enough food for three meals meant to take the place of school lunch on the three days students complete e-learning during the week. Knies said she’s operating the program like the summer feeding program that provides food to any child age 18 and younger when school is out. So far, participation has increased each week.

Northeast Dubois County School Corporation School Bus Driver Jeff Bieker waits to depart with bags of groceries and dyed Easter eggs at Northeast Dubois High School in Dubois on Tuesday.

“We expected that,” Knies said. “People are out of work, and the longer they’re out of work, the more need there is going to be.”

Community organizations that provide food and assistance to those in need are also seeing an increase in service. Community CHEW, a nonprofit that runs a weekly program over the summer geared toward getting students a hot meal each week, began providing bags of groceries when schools first closed in March. As the pandemic continued, they switched to mailing a Holiday Foods gift card to families that signed up each week and had to close sign-ups as the need became greater. The organization also canceled its summer program this year to dedicate more resources to helping families in need during COVID-19.

At Dubois County Community Food Bank in Jasper, Manager Amanda Drew said the nonprofit is seeing an increase in new clients, though the number of people they serve each week has stayed steady as some regular clients who are more at risk have chosen to forgo picking up food out of fear of catching COVID-19.

Any family or single person who makes 185% or less of the poverty level is eligible for services. For a family of four, Drew said, that works out to $48,000 a year in gross income for the household.

For now, Drew said, the organization is offering pickup-only services at 1404 Meridian Road in Jasper three times a week: Mondays from 1 to 3 p.m.; Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m.; and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. The food bank is also accepting food and monetary donations during open hours. Monetary donations can also be made by check, mailed to 1404 Meridian Road.

One local resource that hasn’t seen an increase in clients is the Dubois County Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. The program is a national program that provides nutritional assistance to pregnant and postpartum women and children age 5 and younger.

“We’ve only had a few new people,” said Andrea Werremeyer, secretary at the Dubois County WIC office in Jasper. “We thought there would be more.”

Werremeyer said she and her co-workers are concerned that lack of new clients means people are unaware WIC is available as a resource. Mothers and children who fit the age requirements and qualify for Medicaid, food stamps or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — TANF — automatically qualify. WIC is available to other families based on income.

Werremeyer encouraged those in need to contact the Dubois County WIC office by phone at 812-481-9590 or through Facebook.




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