As Kentucky continues to recover from the job losses and the unpredictability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, one of America’s iconic social service organizations is finding many families in the Owensboro region struggling to make ends meet.
WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Lt. Judah Irvin, commanding officer of the Salvation Army in Owensboro, which serves Daviess, Hancock, McLean and Ohio counties.
Lt. Irvin said the organization is seeing an increasing need among adults and children for that most basic of necessities: food.
Lt. Irvin: Primarily, what we see in our Monday night Youth Outreach Program is the need for not just emotional and spiritual stability, but also increasing needs physically with food and with clothing. Naturally, though, with them coming into our building, it's a great opportunity that we're able to meet some of those physical needs by offering them a hot meal. But also when we see the need for clothing or when we ask about school supplies, or even something as simple as just needing some extra masks, so they're going to school and not having to borrow a mask or get a mask from the school every day we're able to supply and meet those needs for them here.
Miller: What ages come to that youth program?
Lt. Irvin: The youth outreach program starts at five and typically ends at 14.
Miller: How many children and adolescents come on Monday evening?
Lt. Irvin: We have anywhere from 21 to 30 children that come.
Miller: Do you see that number increasing or decreasing?
Lt. Irvin: I do. And I actually see as it's getting colder, they're not able to play outside as easily or as comfortably as they used to. So, we see that there's some increased interest in the fact that they can come down to the Salvation Army and they can get a full meal, and then also play a little bit of basketball or learn a little bit about engineering or learn a little bit about computers or music.
Miller: Are there other programs that you're seeing now, sort of with the colder weather coming up, as far as meals or winter clothes or anything else you are seeing a change in, as far as numbers of people coming?
Lt. Irvin: Yes, ma'am. So here at the Salvation Army on our Wednesday evenings, we do a full mobile kitchen that serves hot meals out in the community. In the past, when we would have a few left over, we took it to a specific impoverished community. And we would give the rest out very quickly. And now what we're seeing is that we're having to start to prepare even more food each week, because of the fact that we're meeting more people who are saying, “Yes, we would like food” or “Can I please take this back to my neighbor?” So, there is a dramatic increased need for food.
Miller: Do you have an estimate of how many meals you maybe were serving a month or two ago and how many are going out now?
Lt. Irvin: So back in the summer, we varied from about 80 to 120 meals served in person. We always prepare 200. And now what we're finding is that we're giving out almost 200 exactly every single week. So, we're having to increase our food orders and almost even increase the workers needed to get out the food.
Miller: Anything else you just want to add about the need, about the food, or any any other things you're noticing in the community as we go into the colder season?
Lt. Irvin: I see more families that come in and they're excited to eat, which brings my heart joy, but it also worries me a little bit that people are excited to eat here, which means that they really don't have as much food as what you might think your neighbor down the street has. All the nonprofits now are starting to recognize that there's an increased need. And I think what I would just share with the community, and challenge the community, is to give back to nonprofits and to volunteer. Sometimes we need people just to come and serve along with us and to be present for their community and to be able to welcome their community members who are really in need, and sometimes in desperate, dire need and encourage them and pray for them.