The residual effects of the pandemic and the rising cost of food, fuel and housing are causing a steady increase in the needs of people across the Archdiocese of Louisville, according to those providing social services.
Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Sister Visitor Center — which serves individuals in the Russell, Portland and Shawnee neighborhoods — is one of those agencies seeing a steady increase in the number of people who need help.
Lori Feris, Sister Visitor’s associate director, said during the height of the pandemic the center started serving individuals and families outside of its regular three neighborhoods. While this may account partly for the sharp increase in the need for food, Feris said the effects of the pandemic and the rising cost of food are also to blame.
“In October we really started to see the numbers go up pretty significantly,” she said during a recent interview.
So far this year, Sister Visitor is serving an average of 1,400 individuals per month, said Feris, adding that in January alone the agency served 1,493 people. That is up from an average of 660 individuals per month in 2020 and about 850 individuals per month in 2021, she said.
From speaking with clients, Feris has learned that many lost their jobs — many in the service and manufacturing industries — when lockdown happened in 2020. She said she also frequently hears clients say that their money “doesn’t go quite as far” as it used to.
Many of these clients are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from the federal government and “they are looking for other resources since their SNAP money is not going as far,” she said.
Sister Visitor has also seen a “huge increase” in those who are seeking assistance paying utility bills, she said.
The natural gas market resulted in higher heating bills this winter, beginning in late 2021, with an increase of about 33 percent for LG&E customers who use an average of 6,000 cubic feet per month, according to the utility company.
“Folks have higher bills. Because we’re coming out of the cooler months, some have big balances,” Feris said. Some also are still struggling to pay off balances they accumulated during the height of the pandemic, she noted.
Community ministries around the Metro area are seeing an increase in the need for food and financial assistance, as well.
Marlon Cummings, executive director of Jeffersontown Area Ministries, called the impact of the pandemic and the continued level of need “historic.”
“I’ve never seen it before,” he said, noting the ministries saw a 50 percent increase in the need for food assistance in 2020 and that increase has not tapered off.
Cummings has also seen a sharp increase in those who are seeking assistance with paying their utility bills, especially LG&E. The need increased during the pandemic and is still present, he said.
Over the past two years, the Association of Community Ministries has received millions of dollars in funds to assist families with these bills, but most of those funds — distributed to member ministries like JAM — have already been used to help struggling individuals, said Cummings.
Between January and April, he said the association has distributed more than $500,000 to LG&E customers.
JAM also distributes food and toiletries once a month, fresh produce once a week and meat daily. It’s currently filling about 400 orders for produce each month and between 150 and 200 orders of other food per month, which amounts to 20,000 pounds of food, he said. It is still operating the way it did during the height of the pandemic — filling orders and distributing them to clients outdoors, said Cummings.
“Food is our best resource and we encourage people to utilize our food pantry because food is expensive,” he said.
The ministries assist needy people mainly in the 40299 zip code, as well as part of the 40220 and 40023 zip codes. It sees widows and widowers struggling because of the high cost of affording a home with one income, senior citizens on a fixed income, as well as families with children, he said.
Central Louisville Community Ministries is also seeing a record spike in the need for food.
CLCM is located at 809 S. 4th St. at the First Unitarian Church. The pantry, located at Calvary Episcopal Church, 821 S. 4th St., is small and funded by churches and individuals in the community, said Linette Lowe, who serves as the ministries’ executive director.
During the height of the pandemic the pantry was open to all who needed it and remains that way today, she said.
“They’re seeing record numbers of clients each week,” said Lowe, noting that need is still on the rise. The pantry handed out food to 1,053 clients during the month of March, which is three times more than in February, she said in a recent interview. “That’s a lot for a small pantry.”
Lowe believes the uptick they’re seeing has a lot to do with the rising cost of food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service reported that the cost of food is expected to increase between three and four percent this year.
“People are struggling to feed their families,” said Lowe. “People are choosing between gas in their car or food on the table,” she said. “People are trying really hard to get back on their feet. They are working but it’s not enough. It’s difficult to watch, knowing we’ll help but that our hands are sort of tied,” she said.
The Rev. Carrie Gerard, executive director of Eastern Area Community Ministries, has seen the need increase as well.
“During the pandemic, we saw need like we’ve never experienced before,” she said. Thanks to funds from the federal government and from Metro Louisville, EACM was able to meet the needs of those looking for emergency financial assistance, she said. In 2019 EACM spent $151,000 in emergency assistance compared to $647,000 in 2021.
“All of that (additional funding) has gone away,” she said. “The need is still very high but we are back to only having the resources available at the pre-pandemic levels.
“This means that we can only assist about 20 families per month with housing assistance, 40 families per month with LG&E and another 20 with water.
At the height of the pandemic, we served well over 200 families per month.”
Gerard said EACM relies on donations for support.
“Everything has gone up in cost and people are struggling. … When you’re already living on the edge and you start paying triple for gas and food prices have gone up, it’s almost impossible to meet those needs,” she said.