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In month 7 of pandemic, DeKalb County service agencies talk growing need. Here's how to get help.

Ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, local charities and organizations have been overwhelmed by the growing number of residents in need of assistance, whether for food, housing or just to pay the bills.

Nearly seven months into the pandemic and its economic fall-outs – with loss of jobs, business revenue and others threatening the financial stability of local residents – DeKalb County organizations say they’re still seeing an uptick in those looking for help.

Family Service Agency of DeKalb County Executive Director Tynisha Clegg said that the phones are ringing “off the hook, nonstop.” FSA typically has two and a half full-time equivalent employees and now has more than six.

“We’ve more than tripled our staff capacity to respond to inquiries because there is an increased need in our community,” Clegg said. “We have hundreds of calls a week asking for assistance. We’ve helped more than 500 people so far.”

“We’ve had such an increase in client load,” said Jessica Brady, community programs director with FSA. “The first call is so emotional, people say they didn’t know where to go to, who to ask. They are looking for more information to get the help and resources they need.”

Local municipalities have also halted late fees and water shut-offs in an attempt to ease the financial burden on residents unable to pay their water bill.

Donna Brown, president of the St. Vincent de Paul St. Mary/Christ the Teacher Conference, said that she also has seen an increase of people asking for assistance.

“It’s really heart-wrenching to see how widespread the pandemic has impacted the community and the economy, especially those on the bottom rung financially,” Brown said. “Normally, we get about five calls a week asking for assistance with rent and utilities. We’ve had upwards of 15 to 20 calls.”

The COVID-19 pandemic led the U.S. economy to plunge by a record-breaking 32.9% annual rate between April and June. Spending collapsed at a 34.6% annual rate and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed more than 200 points down. Since the pandemic’s outbreak, 22 million American jobs were lost and U.S. unemployment currently is 8.4%.

Here’s how to get help

The Family Service Agency of DeKalb County has created a webpage with links and information of local resources that offer assistance during the pandemic:

The webpage lists resources in numerous categories, such as financial assistance, education, counseling and senior and child services.

In March, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provided $12 billion in housing and community development resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

FSA’s Community Action Program has received funding through Kishwaukee United Way and the Community Service Block Grant through the CARES Act to supplement emergency food programs and to respond to the pandemic’s housing impact on DeKalb County. CAP applications are being accepted for rent, mortgage and utility assistance due to COVID-19 impacts.

“There’s not a lot of unrestricted funds for assistance, so they would have to prove they have a hardship tied to COVID in some way,” she said. “That does not necessarily mean someone in their family had the illness. It could be a reduction of work hours, a loss of job. It could mean difficulty paying for mortgage, rent, utilities, food.”

Hope Haven’s shelter in DeKalb offers emergency access to food, shelter and supportive services for individuals and families from DeKalb County. Hope Haven’s homeless prevention program provides emergency rent assistance and security deposits. Other programs offered include an emergency shelter program, rapid rehousing, life skills training and a youth trauma program.

The Salvation Army offers emergency assistance with mortgage/rent, utility bills, clothing, medication and other needs for workers who have lost wages or employment because of COVID-19 closures and cancellations. The DeKalb Corps Community Center, 830 Grove St. in DeKalb, offers a food pantry 9 a.m. to noon Mondays through Thursdays and 5 to 6:45 p.m. Thursdays.

The state of Illinois also launched new initiative, Help Illinois Families, to help cover costs of utility bills, rent, temporary shelter, food and other household necessities.

“You’re not alone,” Clegg said. “Help is still here, funding is still available. … Everyone has been effected by the pandemic in one way or another. People are struggling financially and emotionally during this time. As a community, we’re all struggling, we’re all going through this together. Don’t feel alone. Reach out because we’re here to help.”

Feeding the hungry

DeKalb County has numerous food pantries available for community members, including locations at churches, schools and The Salvation Army.

DeKalb County Community Gardens has two main programs that offer food assistance: the Grow Mobile food pantry and the Genoa Area Community Food Hub, located at 415 W. Main St. in Genoa.

“Since our inception, we have never seen this kind of need for food so quickly in our community,” said Jacki DiNatale, DCCG’s communications director. “Food insecurity in DeKalb County has dramatically risen due to COVID-19 impacting so many residents’ livelihoods.”

Before the pandemic, DCCG distributed food with its mobile food pantry, the Grow Mobile, four or five times a month. Since the pandemic, the Grow Mobile averages 10 to 12 events a month. About 75% of people receiving food at the Grow Mobile say they are using a food pantry for the first time. Access the online Grow Mobile calendar on DCCG’s website or sign up for text alerts by texting @a34cg4 to 81010.

Between July 2019 and July 2020, DCCG’s Genoa Area Community Food Hub saw an 434.29% increase in households served, or 768 individuals, including 446 younger than 18 and 60 older than 60.

Since June 2020, DCCG has been coordinating with the Northern Illinois Food Bank the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to distribute food in DeKalb and Sandwich. The food distributions bring thousands of pounds of meat, dairy and produce to the community, with hundreds of cars lining up in advance to receive the food for their families and neighbors in need.

“People from all walks of life are coming to us for food assistance,” DiNatale said. “Many people have never been to a food pantry before. Food insecurity knows no boundaries. We are grateful to be a resource to help provide food to their tables, something they’re so worried about these days. We have seen an outpouring of community support to help us end food insecurity, from individuals and local businesses and organizations that recognize the important work we’re doing to make sure nobody goes hungry.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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