We are certainly living in a unique time. COVID-19 is changing the world in which we live. At this point I am sure that you have all heard about the steps we all need to take to protect yourself and the community: social distancing, wash your hands, limit travel, and so forth. For a more thorough discussion of what to do to protect yourself visit the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services or the CDC. The News & Observer out of Raleigh has been doing a wonderful job of updating about actions being taken throughout North Carolina. They have also dropped their paywall on any coronavirus articles so they are free to access from any online device. Our county health departments have also been great about keeping our communities apprised of things that are happening locally; Jackson County, Macon County, Swain County. I have also been following Jackson County Commissioner Gayle Woody on Facebook, she has been diligent about relaying county commissioner information. We are now a couple of weeks into this crisis and in the next couple blogs I will be talking about the resources that are available for the people of the Fontana Regional Library service area. This first installment covers unemployment and Food and Nutrition benefits as well as a couple of local organizations in Jackson County, as well as Darnell Farms. These resources are specific to our region but there are similar resources throughout the nation, so check with your local offices.
Every single person and industry will be affected by COVID-19 today and in the long run. Many people are out of work and need assistance fast. The government has changed the requirements to obtain unemployment insurance for individuals that find themselves unemployed or hours reduced due to COVID-19. You are now eligible for unemployment if you are out of work due to sickness and do not have paid sick leave, if your hours have been cut, and if you are laid off. Things are changing rapidly at a national level to this response. In the third bill that passed the Senate on Wednesday March 25th, they have added provisions so that gig and contract workers will also be able to receive unemployment benefits. The best way to enroll for unemployment benefits is to create an account online. Life will go a little smoother if you have all the elements to enroll before you start filling — here is a list of what you will need. To set up an account with the Department of Employment Security (unemployment) you will also need an email address. If you are filing due to effects from COVID-19, be sure that whenever the unemployment application asks if this claim is due to COVID-19 that you respond yes, either because of being laid off or reduced hours. Be sure to be in contact with your employer about your unemployment and check with them to see which category you fall into. Once the unemployment office receives your claim they contact your employer to verify, and life will be much easier if y’all are in contact. On a federal level they have waived the one week wait period for those that are applying for benefits due to this crisis; have extended the time period to receive benefits; and have raised the payment for each person filling due to the coronavirus. With the amount of unemployment claims being filled, 140,000 just last week in North Carolina, you must be a self advocate. Check on your claim to be sure that it is moving through the system, be in contact with your employer and if you see that it is not moving or if you have any questions contact the local NCWorks office. Jackson County NCWorks office contact 586-4063 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow any updates online through their facebook page. Swain county, 488-2149 email email@example.com. Marnie leads the office in both Jackson and Swain counties. She is a wonderful person and will do all in her power to help the people of our community. For Macon county NCWorks contact 369-9534 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A second life support system that is in place on a federal level is Food and nutrition Assistance (SNAP).This service is administered by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Go to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service (NC DHHS) website to start the process. Here is a list of things that you will need to complete your application. If you need more help filing please contact your local office; Jackson County, Macon County, and Swain County. It looks like this third COVID-19 bill moving through Congress has money allocated for states to expand food assistance at the local level. So apply if you need help.
We are very lucky to live in an area that cares for our neighbors. There are organizations that have been supplying direct food assistance for decades and are stepping up to this current challenge. School systems throughout the area have instituted food programs where they are delivering sack lunches to students through bus routes and some in-person pick up locations. In Jackson and Swain counties these lunches are available to any child 0-18, they do not have to be a current student of the school systems. If you are not currently on a bus route you can be added or if you are healthy and would like to volunteer, contact your county school through their online forms; Jackson County, Swain County. As far as I can see Macon county does not say specifically that their lunch program is free for all children. They have pick-up sites at a couple of school locations and are running the regular bus route as well. The links to local schools also provide the latest update and technical help for those that may be having trouble with distance learning. I know that all of the increased traffic on our weak rural broadband infrastructure has led to slow downs for those of us lucky enough to have broadband access, not to mention the high number of people in our community who do not have internet access at their homes. Please note that all of the Fontana Regional Libraries have left our internet connections running and these connections reach outside of our walls. Feel free to park or sit outside of the library to utilize the public wi-fi connection.
In Jackson County there are two different organizations that are handing out direct food assistance in food boxes. The Community Table located at 23 Central St, Sylva, is open for outside service only. This may change at any moment if they are asked to close due to the crisis, please check the website for the most up-to-date information. Food boxes are available Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 11-6, no need to call ahead, just pull up and someone will be there to help. The Community Table is also providing hot dinners on the same days as food pickup from 4-6 pm. All of these dinners will be served to go. The Community Table has seen a big increase in those that are seeking assistance: on average they are giving out 80 boxes of food per day and 40 hot meals per night. If you have any food to spare these community warriors could use our help right now, they are scraping the bottom of the barrel. The Community Table is currently restricting volunteers so that they can help mitigate the spread of coronavirus, but please donate food or money if you are one of the lucky ones that has a little extra these days. United Christian Ministries, at 191 Skyland Dr, Sylva, is also still open for assistance. They offer food boxes, household items and utility assistance. They have, but are not limited to: diapers, deodorant, toilet paper, soap, detergent and many other household necessities. Currently only staff members and volunteers are allowed in the building so pull up to the ramp off the front door. If someone does not come out, call them at 586-8228– there is a sign with the contact number on the front of the building. They are open Monday through Friday; for a complete list of hours as they are different each day check the website. Kathy, director at United Christian Ministries, says that they are not currently seeing a large uptick in need for their services but that she assumes this will change here in the next week and definitely in the next couple weeks and months for their utility assistance. Currently Duke energy has suspended all disconnections and late fees due to nonpayment, but those are bills that will continue to accrue through this crisis and people will need help to cover those built up costs. The best way to help support United Christian Ministries is through donations. They are in dire need of; non perishable food items, household items; diapers, wipes, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and whatnot, and they will be in dire need of financial support for those that will soon need help with utilities. If you have any donations please just drop them off at their location on Skyland Dr. Their volunteers are being very strict on practicing social distancing for the health of their volunteers and the community so that they can continue doing the very essential work that they do, so don’t be surprised if they stay 6 feet away.
Darnell Farms, 2300 Governors Island Rd, Swain county, is a great place to turn to and a beautiful drive if you are looking for good local food. They are offering curbside pick up and have a transparent system in place regarding the steps that they are taking to mitigate this outbreak. If you are concerned about how our food is being handled, and we all should be right now, visit their facebook page where they have a post that explains the steps that they are taking to keep the community safe. They constantly update the status of what they have in stock and have an online ordering page that shows you clearly what they have available. Darnell Farms has much more than just veggies; they carry local dairy products, meat, and canned items. One of the offerings that was up today (Thursday) was an essential produce box that contained eggs, milk, fruits, and veggies in one handy dandy box. Ordering from Darnell Farms is a great way to support our local economy at this time and a great way to be sure that the least amount of hands are touching your food source.
If you are getting stir crazy and would like to see your friends’ and families’ faces, I have recently found the app marco polo. It is a video app that you can use to talk to people individually or create groups that you all share together, I personally have been having a blast on it and it has really helped my extrovert tendencies.
In the next installment on local resources I hope to talk to you about several other resources in Swain County, and I am also researching Macon County. I will also update you on what is happening on the federal level and how that will shake out for us in Western North Carolina, possibly explore some ways that we can help our first responders, and highlight some wonderful library resources that can be used as teaching aids or entertainment. Everyone please stay safe out there and let’s be sure to practice social distancing.