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Shutdown spurs food drive by churches

Food, funds collected to help those threatened by cut-off of benefits / January 23, 2019

Two local churches are expanding their ministries to assist those struggling financially in the wake of the partial government shutdown.

Working through Project Care For, the food pantry group, congregants of Clarksville Baptist and Clarksville Presbyterian churches are raising funds and gathering food provisions for people impacted by what has become the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history.

Cindy Meyer, one of the ministry leaders, said the volunteers will reach out to families in the Clarksville area who receive rent subsidies through Housing and Urban Development (HUD), or obtain supplemental nutrition assistance through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) or SNAP (formerly food stamp) programs.

However, there is no income means test for people who need help. Anyone in need should contact her.

As she read more about the fallout from the ongoing government shutdown, now a month old, Meyer said she realized that families could be forced to choose between paying for food, a roof over their heads, or light and heat — choices no one should have to make, she added.

Between December and January, contracts expired for some 1,150 Section 8 housing units nationwide, putting in jeopardy the shelter for hundreds of people enrolled locally in the project-based rental assistance subsidy program, many of whom are elderly or disabled. Another 500 contracts are set to expire if the shutdown continues into February.

The rental assistance program, which is administered through Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allows landlords to charge market rates for apartments, with tenants paying 30 percent of their income and HUD picking up the rest. Without HUD money, landlords could demand that tenants pay the full rent themselves, or face eviction.

Meyer said she and others are aware that families previously determined eligible to receive SNAP benefits received their February allocation on January 17, two weeks early. Along with the benefits, recipients were told by Virginia Department of Social Services that these monies must sustain them throughout the month of February, and they should proactively plan their food shopping for the coming month using the early funds.

At the same time, families learned that the status of future benefits beginning in March remains unknown.

Planning meals and shopping for a month could prove challenging for some families. With that in mind, Meyer said she asked and received approval from members of Clarksville Baptist Church to use money from the Lazarus Project, a ministry she created four years ago to help feed food insufficient households, to supplement food and rent or utility payments “while the crisis is in effect.”

Because she has a relationship with many families living in Newton’s Trailer Park in Buffalo Junction — for the past four years, Meyer and others have delivered monthly soup dinners to the trailer park’s low-income residents — Meyer and Dr. Greg Randall, Pastor of the Clarksville Baptist Church, decided to focus their efforts there.

When Annette Goard and members of the Clarksville Presbyterian Church asked to be part of the ministry, Meyer said they started looking into ways to expand their outreach to help as many families as funding and food would allow.

On Sunday, Meyer said she will be meeting with the Clarksville Baptist Church congregation to discuss the logistical, monetary and volunteer needs to help local families during the shutdown. The goal is to raise enough money and find enough volunteers to deliver food to sustain the families until their benefit payments begin again. At a minimum, they would like to make two food deliveries to families in February.

Meyer ask that anyone interested in working with Project Care For, even if you are not a member of either church, contact her after Sunday. By then she will have a grocery list that, she’s been told, includes enough food to sustain a family of three or four for one week.

She will also be in a better position to know how many volunteers will be needed to distribute the food. Meyer can be reached at (434) 738-3056 or by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). If she does not answer her phone, Meyer asks that callers leave a message with contact information.

“We would prefer, instead of donations, that people offer to shop and bring the food to designated drop locations, after Jan. 27.” If that is not possible, contributions can be mailed to Project Care For, PO Box 402, Clarksville, VA 23927.

She will be handling requests for rent subsidies or utility payments through Project Lazarus. Anyone interested in donating to that ministry should contact Meyer directly.

Meyer is hoping that other churches as well as members of the community will join this Project Care For ministry on behalf of friends and neighbors who are struggling. “We want this to be a collaborative, more ecumenical, ministry,” she explained, noting, too, that no one knows what tomorrow will bring, and one day all of us could face the same challenge.

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