A call to help: Amid national emergency, east side families struggle to feed children and pay bills

The requests for help pouring into Shepherd Community Center provide a snapshot of the already devastating economic consequences of a fast-moving global pandemic.

Parents say they need food to feed their families as businesses shut down and work hours are cut, or eliminated altogether. Others need soap, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. At least one family asked for help to pay electric and water bills.

A mother, who suddenly lost her job, was worried that Shepherd’s food pantry would close. (It’s still open and serving east side neighbors who otherwise wouldn’t know from where and when their next meal will come).

The coronavirus pandemic has created fear and uncertainty around the globe. Nowhere is the uncertainty more unsettling than in poverty-stricken neighborhoods like those on the east side where many families live from one payday to the next.

“The loss of hours that families saw in their paychecks last week is affecting their ability to pay bills this week,” Jay Height, Shepherd’s executive director, said. “It’s very immediate.”

I asked Height how those of us blessed with more financial margins can help families whose challenges have now become much more daunting.

“First, pray,” he said. “We are distributing sack breakfasts and sack lunches each day. We continue to need food, and we’re especially thankful for our partnership with Gleaners (Food Bank). People can pack food boxes and drop them off here at Shepherd. They also can donate online.”

Shepherd staff set up an online donation page that makes assisting children and families fast and convenient. A donation of $20 will feed a child for a week. A gift of $65 will meet a family’s needs for the next seven days.

With Shepherd Academy, like other schools across the nation, closed indefinitely, staff sent computers home with families so that learning can continue online. The digital bridge also preserves important personal connections that help counter the dangers of social isolation.

But as stress levels rise and job losses continue to mount, Height said that the risk of suicides and domestic violence also increases. To help, the Shepherd team is calling twice a week the hundreds of families it serves to listen, pray and offer encouragement.

“We are continuing to serve the children and families in our neighborhood,” Height said.

A global pandemic and national emergency have not — and will not — change that.

In fact, the needs have never been more urgent. And the call for all of us to respond with generosity, courage and perseverance has never been greater.