Homer community reports for duty in COVID-19 crisis

The cars and trucks were lined up at the Homer United Methodist Church parking lot through the lunch hour Monday, and they kept coming into the afternoon. Some drivers wore masks and gloves, and so did most of the volunteers, bundled against a cold wind as they offered a quick greeting. The new drive-through line provides scant interaction. But a surprising number of drivers were first-timers, offering to show their identification to prove they live in Homer.

All we need to know is how many are in your household, the volunteers said.

Each vehicle got a paper bag of produce, and a box with peanut butter and canned vegetables and baked goods. Two boxes, for the biggest families. And this week, something extra in each box: a handful of chocolate Easter eggs.

Amid retail closures, economic uncertainty, and pandemic anxiety, weekly traffic to the Homer Community Food Pantry is on the rise. Nearly 220 food boxes were given out this week. Food kept in storage is going fast. The pantry depends entirely on local donations. Monthly spending for food is expected soon to double.

Likewise, at the Anchor Point Food Pantry, recipients are now limited to one bag of food each. Weekly household clients have tripled because of lost jobs. That number is expected to increase each week. Instead of serving a warm meal, clients get bag meals along with their drive-through pick up.

The Anchor Point Senior Center, meanwhile, has shut down, eliminating its weekly revenue stream, even as the kitchen continues to make free lunches for pickup and delivery. In similar fashion, the Homer Senior Center has closed its doors and eliminated congregate lunches, a source of income, while incurring new costs for to-go plates, hand sanitizer and stepped-up cleaning of the Friendship Terrace assisted living facility.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are only starting to be felt in Homer. But managers of Homer-area nonprofits tell us hard times are coming for their organizations and their clients — many of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck, without savings to carry them through six months of economic lockdown.

Fortunately, something else is happening on the South Kenai Peninsula. You won’t be surprised to hear that Homer has already started showing compassion in this time of need.

Donations of money and volunteer time are flowing to the nonprofit service providers, to the Salvation Army, to the I Love Homer relief fund established by the Church on the Rock, and to the Homer Foundation’s new COVID-19 Response Fund.

Thanks to the town’s quick generosity, our community foundation has already been able to grant money to the two senior centers, shoring up their efforts in a time of falling income. We continue to work with the food pantries, in part through the Homer Foundation’s Community Chest, which every year sends thousands of dollars to the Homer pantry’s emergency non-food assistance program, to pay for things like medicine, transportation and rent for families facing unexpected bills.

As donations come in, we will be able to pivot through this crisis as new needs arise. We are working with South Peninsula Haven House, which takes on homelessness in our area through the state-funded housing assistance program. Like other agencies, Haven House is looking at lost revenues and increased costs due to the pandemic. Their thrift store is closed, but the rent doesn’t stop. The need for their shelter may rise as well, to judge from a United Nations report out this week documenting dreadful increases in domestic violence and abuse in a world under lockdown.

Hard times ahead. In addition to the economic relief funds mentioned here, we have been urging donors to continue supporting the other worthy nonprofits in the area, whose annual fund-raising efforts have been shut down. We’re looking at a year of belt-tightening all around, even for those who regularly reach into their pockets to give to others.

In the next week or two, congressional stimulus checks start showing up in local bank accounts. For many in our area, this $1,200 will provide vital assistance to help cover immediate bills. Thank goodness for that money. Some may choose to share their windfall with others in the community who need it more.

These are the times a community foundation was made for. We believe this worst of years will also end up showing Homer at its best.

By Mike Miller and Tom Kizzia

Mike Miller is the Executive Director of the Homer Foundation. Tom Kizzia is the Board of Directors Secretary.