Two months ago, New Salem Church’s 30-year-old food pantry was a place where the community was welcomed inside the doors. The environment was full of conversation, music and laughter. You could find a pat on the back, a hug and a word of inspiration.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed all of that. Now, for the safety of our volunteers and clients, cars line up in the church’s parking lot, people phone in their orders, our volunteers bring boxes of food and other necessary household items out to the car, load them and then watch clients drive away to make room for the next car.
From February to March, we saw a steady increase in new clients, up 32%, and senior citizens, up 28%. The line grows longer each week with people who’ve never needed help putting a meal on the table. In the U.S., the black community is taking the biggest hit. People are hurting and dying disproportionately as we struggle to control the COVID-19 world pandemic. And in Columbus’ Linden community, we are feeling the full wake of the curve.
Linden residents felt the COVID-19 pandemic free fall before most Ohioans as Linden-based restaurant and hospitality workers began losing income on March 5, 2020, when Gov. Mike DeWine, for safety reasons, prohibited spectators and exhibitors from attending a major sporting event in Columbus.
Nearly 60% of employed Linden residents work low-wage service industry jobs, and 58% of neighborhood residents are housing cost-burdened. Additionally, more than 38% of all households in Linden include children, who are typically fed at school. The loss of income for many residents has exacerbated tenuous housing situations.
The area’s food insecurity and housing instability are sure to intensify during the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath. The gap of inequity in health outcomes and social determinants of health that existed before the world pandemic is now wider than ever before and deadlier.
The two largest food pantries in Linden, Bread of Life Food Pantry run by New Salem’s Community of Caring Development Foundation and St. Stephen’s Community House, are among the few still open. In addition to requests for food, more people are calling daily for rent and utilities assistance.
In the ongoing months, as the impact on our economy and our communities is unveiled, we must think through what public policy changes are needed in a post-COVID-19 world to improve our quality of life and eradicate the inequities that arrest our full potential, keeping many citizens struggling behind the rest of society.
In the meantime, we are all aware of the need for more testing and tracking in Columbus’ communities of color and throughout the city. And there is an urgent need for data collection, specifically in the African American and Hispanic communities so we can better understand how the virus spreads and find ways to mitigate it.
A slow, gradual reopening of the economy is the best approach and will bring relief, hopefully, for our area’s workers who are ready to go back to earning a living. However, we must remember the disproportionate number of people of color, many working in essential jobs around the city, who are vulnerable citizens with high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, heart disease and undergoing cancer therapy. They need our ongoing protection during these times of uncertainty. We all have a role to play. Let’s be responsible.
And let’s remain faithful and be a resource people can depend on, even if it’s just your next-door neighbor or an elderly family member. During these challenging times, we must be there for our neighbors and then make it our new normal.
The future is uncertain; it is going to be a long, hard road for us all. But if we remain committed to helping others, donating and volunteering when we can, staying at home and wearing a mask in public, we can successfully practice social distancing without becoming socially disconnected.
Adam K. Troy is director of missions, New Salem Baptist Church and chief engagement officer of the Community of Caring Development Foundation, the economic and development arm of New Salem Baptist Church.