SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – People looking for food at the Salvation Army Food Pantry in Syracuse can no longer come inside and pick out food from the pantry. A cart attached to a rope has been their lifeline since the beginning of the pandemic, the Salvation Army’s Gina Lazara said.
“They used to be able to come right in the red door, and they used to be able to have much better interaction with our staff,” Lazara said. “When COVID hit, we did have to change that for everyone’s health and safety.
The personal interaction between pantry staff and the people they serve is just one of the things that changed due to the pandemic. The amount of food the pantry gives out has also changed.
“We didn’t want them to come out as much or have more contact than necessary,” Lazara said. “So, we decided to go ahead and have bigger boxes, and so the boxes were a week or two weeks worth of food.”
The number of people the Salvation Army helps has also changed due to the pandemic. The average number of people helped by the Salvation Army per year is around 42,000, but the past year, that number jumped to 46,000. According to Lazara, that number might not even be accurate.
“Our head major thinks it’s way more than that,” Lazara said. “Because at the beginning, it almost wasn’t even getting documented every time there was a new person.”
Homeless shelters run by the Salvation Army were also affected by the pandemic. The women at the Salvation Army’s Women’s Shelter have suffered because of it, shelter director Stephani Klumpp said.
“Now we’re saying, ‘Hey, we can’t even meet with you in-person,'” Klumpp said. “Hey, we can’t even do activities. We can’t even do life skills around teaching you how to cook to prepare you to move out, because we can’t physically get close to you.”
Other shelters throughout the area have also had to adjust. Shelters run by the Housing and Homeless Coalition of Central New York had to set up quarantine sites separate from their shelters to house people who had either tested positive for COVID-19 or were experiencing symptoms.
Some of their shelters even hosted pop up vaccination clinics, director Megan Stuart said.
“Right on site, if people are hanging out, they can go upstairs and get vaccinated,” Stuart said. “That was really, really productive”
Shelters were helped by New York state’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium. The moratorium ceased evictions during the pandemic, which in turn led to fewer people being made homeless.
“Our census just became 50% or lower,” Klumpp said. “That happened for a number of reasons, the biggest is the moratorium on evictions. So, individuals who would normally be getting evicted aren’t getting evicted.”
The moratorium in New York state was recently extended until August, but shelters are bracing for when it does expire.
“As more and more cases are heard in eviction court, we’re really expecting our numbers to jump back up once people start being evicted again,” Stuart said.
That could lead to even more changes at shelters in the future.