Social service agencies in the region say they are seeing a slight increase in demand for services but are preparing for a spike in requests as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens. Some of the organizations are already experiencing a decline in revenue due to the public health crisis.

Client contacts at the Jonnycake Center of Westerly are up about 10 to 15%, said Lee Eastbourne, the agency's  executive director, during an interview this week.

"We've seen a slight spike and anticipate it being even greater in the next couple of weeks," Eastbourne said.

Many who have been laid off from their jobs will receive their final paychecks this week, Eastbourne said. "Then comes the worry about paying the rent and bills and putting food on the table for families," he said.

The center closed its thrift store on March 13. Store sales account for more than 50% of the non-profit center's annual budget. Additionally, two fundraisers were canceled. As of earlier this week, Eastbourne said the center was about $35,000 short of budget projections.

The center is seeking new grant funding from the Rhode Island Foundation and the United Way. The best way to assist the center during this crisis is through financial donations, Eastbourne said. Information on how to donate to the center is available at https://jonnycake.org/donate-2/. Unsolicited food donations are temporarily closed due to the public health emergency, and items are not being accepted for the thrift store.

The center's food pantry, which remains open, is in good shape for now, Eastbourne said. The pantry relies mainly on food the center orders from the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, which distributes food to pantries, shelters and meal sites throughout the state. A donation to the center of just $10 translates to about 100 pounds of food the center can purchase, Eastbourne said.

The center's social services department remains open, but some services have been temporarily suspended. Clients are asked to call the center for up-to-date information.

WARM Center at capacity

The WARM Center, which provides housing for the homeless and meals for the hungry, is at capacity at its 19-bed location on Spruce Street, and its off-site housing is occupied. Center staff do a health check and take shelter residents' temperatures twice a day, said Russ Partridge, the center's executive director.

"Everyone who is here every day has done everything we've asked. It's really been quite amazing. People are really pulling together," Partridge said.

Lunches and dinners, which the center normally serves seven days per week, are now being given out in bags. Partridge said donations of cold cuts, rolls, bread and bottled water are always welcome. The food items must be packaged and from stores.

Most of the center's staff, including those who provide social work services to WARM clients, are working from home. Those who work onsite are putting in long days, Partridge said. The center's volunteers are not working during the crisis.

Like the Jonnycake Center, Partridge said the WARM Center is about $35,000 off of its revenue projections due to canceled fundraising events. A recently awarded $75,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation's COVID-19 Response Fund will help, Partridge said. The center has also received donations from residents.

"The community has responded as it always does," Partridge said.

For information on how to donate to the WARM Center, visit http://warmcenter.org/.

PNC bagging meals

The Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center is operating but has modified its food pantry operations. Orders are being taken by center staff and pre-packed bags brought out to clients in their vehicles. The bags are distributed based on the number of people in each family.

The center normally relies on the efforts of about 100 volunteers, most of whom are senior citizens. But Susan Sedensky, the center's executive director, said the volunteers have been asked not to come in until the crisis passes.

The center's caseworkers are working remotely. The center is continuing a medical appointment ride service but is now taking just one person per trip. It is also continuing to deliver meals.

Sedensky said the center has experienced an increase in the number of people receiving food assistance, and she said she has spoken with a few employers who called to inform her of coming layoffs.

"I expect to see a lot more," Sedensky said, referring to demand for food.

Instead of food donations, Sedensky said, the center is now seeking financial donations that it can use to purchase food.

"We're seeing an increase in generosity. I think people really want to help," Sedensky said. "We're seeing a lot of good will in the community."

For information on how to donate to the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, go to https://pawcatuckneighborhoodcenter.org/.

Wood River scales back

Wood River Health Services closed its Westerly office and has scaled back operations at its primary location in Hope Valley. While some medical appointments are being done on site, most care, including behavioral health services, is being delivered by phone, according to Dave Henley, agency spokesman. Dental services are being provided for emergencies only.

The organization plans to seek grant funding to make up for diminished revenues associated with the crisis, Henley said.

"Our revenue stream has been severely damaged," Henley said.

For information on how to donate to Wood River Health Services, go to https://www.mightycause.com/organization/Wood-River-Health-Services .

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