Photo: CAC staff member Jackie Knabe sorts through donations from Harvester Food Mobile. Photo by Kathy Feist

CAC helps keep families afloat during pandemic fallout

 The South KC food bank asks for May Day donations to help cause

By Tyler Schneider

As the Executive Director of the Community Assistance Council of Kansas City, Rachel Casey was left facing some unfathomable challenges when Covid-19 hit Kansas City in mid-March.

The CAC is the only emergency assistance agency in south Kansas City. On March 16, the facility at 10901 Blue Ridge Blvd closed its doors to the public for safety reasons. Since then, Casey has led a small team of five employees in mitigating the damage via a series of proactive adaptations. 

“We have had to be so flexible. We had to change the details of our food delivery model probably six times already [since March]. We’ve had to finesse the specifics of how all of this works, but we’ve continued to operate and get food out the door and we’re doing it at a higher rate now,” Casey said. 

The volume of clients has indeed risen, evidenced by the fact that 185 families utilized some form of CAC service in April of this year. At least 22 families have already called in for emergency rental assistance as well. 

To help the CACs cause, Casey issued a ‘May Day Call for Help’on May 1, requesting ongoing donations for the entire month. Of these donations, every $1 contributed will help provide three meals, while $350 will keep utilities up and running for a single family for one month. A donation of $750 can keep a family from going homeless for another month. 

Casey could certainly use the help. Before the outbreak, she had roughly 30 volunteers in addition to five staff members working in what would then have been defined as a ‘choice food pantry.’ Now, due to COVID-19, that number has almost dwindled down to the single digits.

“A lot of our volunteers fall into the vulnerable population category, so on that March 16, quite a few of them said they couldn’t really be in going forward,” Casey said. 

unnamed (10)
Long-time CAC volunteer Monique Smith wheels groceries to a waiting client. Photo Community Assistance Council.

While some volunteers picked up additional hours after being furloughed by their primary employer, the decrease in helping hands comes with a drastic change in how the pantry has approached operations in the era of the coronavirus. 

“Normally, we are what is called a “choice pantry,” where a client would come [to the CAC] and shop in the pantry with one of our volunteers. The volunteer would then help guide them to healthy options, or just answer questions and assist them,” Casey said.

The virus’ outbreak put an end to that system for the foreseeable future, however.

“We went from being a client choice pantry that saw eight to ten clients come in a day, to a food distribution process where food was prepackaged and brought straight out to their vehicles,” Casey said. “Some days, that means we have more cars pull up.”

unnamed (9)
Packed food for the homebound awaits deliveries at the Community Assistance Council. Photo by CAC. 

 

When the rent comes due

In addition to food and pantry services, the CAC also works to provide rent assistance for clients — a group that consists entirely of households that range within 150 percent of the national poverty mark. 

“With the emergency rent and utility assistance, that part is still functioning right now. Although, right now, people are really just ‘on-hold’ as far as utility and eviction cutoffs,” Casey said. 

A nationwide eviction moratorium is in place until May 18 — a date that is approaching much faster than many households can manage to handle on their own. This, too, is an issue that Casey is monitoring closely day-to-day.

The average rent around our area is $750 a month, so if somebody has an eviction notice, usually by that time they’re on their third month of rent that they’ve missed,” Casey said. “So, generally, if they have an eviction notice and they call us, we will be the one to work it out between the client/renter and the landlord. We would pay the first month that the client owes, and they will work to get the other two months paid.”

Stacey Johnson-Cosby is the President of the KC Regional Housing Alliance. With 33 years worth of experience in the real estate industry and 25 as a landlord, Johnson-Cosby is well connected in the KC housing community. 

“What we’ve asked people to do, if you find you can’t make your rent payment, is to communicate that with your landlord as early as possible. If you reach out to them, you can work on a payment plan that’s mutually acceptable,” Johnson-Cosby said. 

It’s important to establish these lines of communication early, she says, because resources are still available for struggling renters. The key is to increase public awareness of such programs in order to combat less effective methods of paying rent — that is, not paying it at all.

Johnson-Cosby added that the KCRHA’s primary mission is to keep people stabilized in their homes. In that way, the KCRHA and the CAC can be considered partners in the effort to connect struggling South KC families with the resources and stability needed to remain solvent during the ongoing COVID-19 saga. 

Casey who has been working in her current position for over two years  is happy to have allies amidst all of the uncertainty.  

“Everybody’s delivery model was kind of turned upside down [as a result of COVID-19],” Casey said. 

Donations can be made at the CAC website homepage. The CAC’s service area starts south of 85th Street and covers the following zipcodes: 64114, 64131, 64132, 64134, 64137, 64138 [excluding Raytown], 64139, 64145, 64146, 64147, 64149. This area includes all of Hickman Mills School District (including part in 64030) and all of Center School District.