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Siskiyou food banks see increased need for services during COVID-19 pandemic

Kelsey Shelton
Mount Shasta Herald
Food donations accepted.

Siskiyou food banks have seen an increase in need since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Although fundraisers are on a hiatus and their methods of distribution are different, organizations are doing all they can to meet the higher demand.

A Feeding America analysis estimates that 15 million more people will live in food insecure homes in the USA this year, compared with pre-pandemic estimates. 

"Food banks have consistently seen a 60 percent increase in demand compared to this time last year, and continue to require more food and resources to provide to people in need," the organization said in a news release days before Thanksgiving.

The U.S. census reported in the week before Thanksgiving that about 12% of adults in American households with children received free groceries or a free meal the previous week, according to a survey conducted from Oct. 28 to Nov. 9.

On Nov. 23, Siskiyou Food Assistance volunteers handed out 450 Thanksgiving meal boxes to the Weed community. The food was purchased with funding from local organizations and donations from local businesses, churches and individuals, said SFA director Denise Spayd. 

Many Siskiyou food banks go above and beyond to ensure people don't go hungry.

"People are reaching out and helping, and are making sure we can still help the community,” said Yreka Food Bank executive director Denise Patterson. “If there’s something I can do, I will, if I have it and someone needs it, I will help.”

Here's a listing of places that help with food insecurity, and how to access services if you need them.

Great Northern Services

While GNS is located in Weed, they don’t just stick to the south county community when it comes to food distribution. According to Community Services Department Director Heather Solus, there are a variety of services offered to those around Siskiyou County, including food distribution, senior nutrition programs, and emergency food pantries for schools and students.

According to Solus, her department “handles food and nutrition, both senior and child,” by way of monthly USDA commodities distributions of shelf stable foods, as well as fresh items such as eggs, and fresh meat. They also offer delivery and drive through options.

While most services are income based, Solus said that when it comes to food, “most qualify.”

Each month, GNS delivers USDA commodities to local food banks, dispersion units, and centers  where residents of Siskiyou County can pick up after a self-certification  process.

“There’s no paperwork or anything proving you qualify,” said Solus. “You just look at a sheet of incomes, verbally qualify, and leave with food.”

Solus said that while the need for food has grown since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the USDA commodities takes things day by day for each recipient. “Even if you just got laid off on Monday, you can still pick up food,” said Solus.

As for seniors in need of nutrition, those over the age of 60 don't need to look too far for assistance. Pre-pandemic, GNS offered an in person, social luncheon hour regularly in both Dunsmuir and Mount Shasta for residents.

Now, their meals on wheels program for homebound seniors has seen an increase in need, same with their newly implemented drive-up meal program.

“We’ve been doing drive-up since COVID started,” said Solus. “We’ve been really successful, and have doubled the amount of seniors we are feeding for Senior Nutrition,” said Solus.

Solus noted there has also been an increase in USDA commodities distribution since the pandemic began.

Great Northern Services is located at 310 Boles Street, in Weed and is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. They can be reached by calling (530) 938-4115. GNS not only offers food assistance, but they also offer home weatherization, energy assistance, and micro/macro enterprise loan assistance for members of the south county community.

Siskiyou Food Assistance volunteers stand amid a sea of grocery bags ready to be dispersed to those in need Monday morning in Weed. All together, nearly 500 meals were donated.

Siskiyou Food Assistance

Chairman of Siskiyou Food Assistance Lee Fulcher said there has been a large increase in demand for their services since the beginning of the pandemic.

This was exemplified on Nov. 23 when Siskiyou Food Assistance volunteers handed out 450 Thanksgiving meal boxes.

While COVID has put a damper on fundraisers and accessibility for residents, Fulcher said donations from the community are keeping them going. “Generosity has picked up,” he said. “It’s been a real blessing.”

According to their website, the food bank exists “to raise awareness of local hunger and bring change to the lives of those we serve in Siskiyou County.” Those who would like to receive assistance should bring a photo ID, proof of south county residency for all household members, and proof of income.

Siskiyou Food Assistance offers emergency food boxes, which include fresh produce and shelf staples meant to provide a three day supply of food.

SFA also offers a produce only option, where clients can choose from a changing, farmers market type display. This is generally available on a weekly basis, with a $1 donation and use of one’s own bag for transport.

For Weed residents, the Emergency Food Assistance Program is generally held every other month, and includes USDA commodities of pre-selected shelf-staple foods. The distribution is income based, and is on a first come, first served basis. With the pandemic, however, there most likely will be changes to options, due to distancing and safety measures. It is always recommended to contact Siskiyou Food Assistance to ensure needs can be met.

The pantry is located at 780 S. Davis Ave., in Weed, in the Weed Elementary School annex. They are open Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for drive-thru distribution, and for special food giveaway events.

Yreka Food Bank

The Yreka Food Bank, located on Gold Street, has been serving the Yreka area community for over 40 years.

Executive Director Denise Patterson said that the bank doesn’t follow an income guideline, and that residents can get fresh in-season veggies, canned vegetables, desserts, meats, soups, bread, and more as a supplement for meals. “We basically work off donations,” Patterson said.

The food bank doesn’t get commodities support from the government, so there is no income threshold guideline to follow. Most who receive assistance for food distribution follow the national poverty line.

Currently, the areas served include rural Yreka, including as Montague, Gazelle, Grenada, and Hornbrook. “We don’t turn anyone away,” said Patterson. “If we can’t have someone a second time, we will refer them to others.”

This year, due to the pandemic, the food bank is taking a hit since food drives are on hiatus.

“People are reaching out and helping, and are making sure we can still help the community,” said Patterson. “If there’s something I can do, I will, if I have it and someone needs it, I will help.”

Patterson said that while there has been an increase in need since the start of the pandemic, food stamps being adjusted to max allotment has helped many clients during the pandemic. “There’s days with 20 to 30 people, and days with two to three. It just depends on the month and timing,” said Patterson.

YFB also participates in the Christmas Basket program, something they have done for years. “We will be providing a basket for those in the community who sign up,” said Patterson. “It’s a family bag, one per household, and includes turkey and everything necessary to make a Christmas dinner,” said Patterson.

She went on to say that the supplies could be limited, depending on donations. Patterson said that Great Northern will be assisting with turkeys, and the Knights of Columbus will donate as well. Patterson recommends signing up for a basket by Dec. 22. Further details will be released soon.

The Yreka Food Bank is open Tuesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. for food bag pickups. Contact the Food Bank by calling (530) 643-2507.

Siskiyou Community Food Bank

Siskiyou Community Food Bank Executive Director Laura Leach, said there has been a noticeably large increase in clientele since the beginning of the pandemic, but there are some requirements that one must meet in order to receive assistance.

“We need proof of residency, income and basic information, like addresses, phone numbers, date of birth and social security numbers for everyone in the household,” she said.

Food assistance is provided to those who meet the income threshold guidelines, and is distributed monthly. Residents whose incomes qualify will get shelf stable items, such as boxed macaroni and cheese, canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, and cereal. “We offer fresh items, such as bread, eggs and milk, and we try to give out as many staples as we can,” said Leach.

Normally, Leach said the average household gets about 35 pounds of food from the bank a month. Larger families, with verified residences and incomes for all members of the household, can get up to 60 pounds a month.

Those who are homeless can also get assistance, said Leach. “We need the same information, so they have to prove residency. They have to tell us where they stay at night, or draw a map so we can verify,” said Leach.

Leach said that there are also limited canned items that they can give out to non-locals in need, such as vienna sausages, Spam, and “other things that they don’t have to cook,” said Leach. The food bank does not provide any foods to the homeless that would need to be heated with a fire.

Due to the pandemic, much like the Yreka Food Bank, there were no can drives this year to provide the bank with additional goods. “We also have a concession booth at the Fairgrounds and that was cancelled,” said Leach. “Covid has hampered it.”

"We do not get commodities from the government. We are an independent organization and we rely on donations from the general public and grants,” said Leach, who also acts as a grant writer.

With no commodities given freely, Leach said that additional foods to be provided for clients are purchased by the food bank from Feeding America. Leach said that she also works in conjunction with the Yreka Food Bank on Gold Street, to ensure that those who need food weekly can get what they need.

Leach refers clients to other food banks, as well as to Human Services, so clients can get set up with CalFresh or food stamp benefits to garner further assistance. Leach also refers those who are over 60 or are veterans, to programs where they locally can get assistance, such as the Veterans Center or Social Security. She also refers clients to the Yreka Community Resource Center.

The Siskiyou Community Food Bank is one of many food banks taking part in Giving Tuesday this year, and they are hoping that they will garner funds from the community through donations on Dec. 1.

The Siskiyou Community Food Bank is located at 1601 S. Oregon Street, #B, in Yreka. They are open Monday and Thursday from 1 to 3:45 p.m. They can be reached by calling (530) 905-1551.

Mental health assistance

Siskiyou County Human Services, which offers an array of income based programs, such as CalFresh, Food Stamps and other social service based programs, also offers assistance for those seeking mental health assistance, both during the pandemic, and ongoing.

Behavioral Health Peer Specialist Sadie Wilson, stated that while the county doesn’t offer food programs like a food bank would, their services include those that are “mental health based, where case managers do work with clients and give them resources.” Wilson believes that with the pandemic, there are certain aspects related to mental health that have increased, particularly as it relates to additional financial assistance and food insecurity.

 “We’ve exhausted a lot of those [resources] since people are struggling to stay above water and keep their mental health stable,” said Wilson.

She noted that a lot of young kids struggle with food insecurity and mental health issues due to school closures. A large amount of Siskiyou County's kids can get up to two meals a day from school lunch programs or their school's emergency food pantry.

“Obviously, their parents struggle too because they’re all trying to adapt. It’s really hit all the way round,” said Wilson.

Wilson noted that if clients are having issues with supplies or food, behavioral health representatives will assist them with transportation, help with gathering necessary documents for qualifications, and help with direction.

Wilson noted that since the pandemic began, Human Services has partnered with other entities to create a stress reduction resource for clients.

CalHope has a hotline that gives people access to explain what type of struggles they are going through, and can direct them  to other resources available to assist them. “It’s geared towards helping people process stress successfully so it doesn’t impact their mental health as much,” Wilson said.

“We are all just supporting everyone as much as we can,” said Wilson.

Human services programs, such as CalFresh, Food Stamps, and mental health or financial relief services, are strictly reserved for Siskiyou County residents who qualify. Human services offers a variety of programs for residents and have information on how one can access aid.

Further information can be found online at www..co.siskiyou.ca.us/health-humanservices, or by calling (530) 841-2700 Monday through Friday between  8 a.m. and 5 p.m., being closed Noon to 1 p.m. for lunch hour.