Karing Kitchen keeps feeding hungry, aiding others despite daunting new obstacles

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ONEIDA — Non-profits are faced with new challenges in the face of COVID-19 as they work to help those in need and Karing Kitchen in Oneida is working as hard as ever.

Housed in the basement of the Oneida First United Methodist Church at the corner of Main and Grove, the Karing Kitchen has worked to help the community for the last 30 years. Coordinator Melissa King said it’s been a challenge moving to a delivery-only model but they’re making it work.

King said volunteers have been working to identify the needs in the community and making sure the food is there for people in the community who need help.

“We’ve reached out to all of our families,” King said. “And anyone who hasn’t heard from us, we ask them to reach out to us on our Facebook so we can connect with them.”

With coronavirus/COVID-19, King said the volunteers at Karing Kitchen are working to keep a social distance and avoiding unnecessary contact with people while still getting the food to those in need. “We’re trying to keep our volunteers safe,” she said.

And with people losing their jobs or out of work, the need is there. “I’ve seen some new families but I’ve also seen families who I haven’t seen in years,” King said. “People who got back on their feet and everything was going good. And now they’ve lost their job. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, especially with employers who say they have no idea when they’re coming back.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently said at a press conference that people should be prepared to be out of work for a few months.

“And that’s scary, especially if you were living paycheck to paycheck,” King said. “And you’re trying to figure out how the bills are paid, there’s a roof over their head, and there’s food on the table.”

Karing Kitchen has been working to help families navigate the system, applying for unemployment or informing families of programs put in place by the governor in the wake of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

King said those worried about being evicted for not being able to make rent should know that Cuomo has put in place a 90-day moratorium on evictions.

“What we’re telling our families is pay what you can to your landlord because this is your landlord’s existence too but they cannot evict you,” King said. “Explain to them what’s going on. Communication is key and having that open dialogue is important.”

In helping the community, King thanked the local school districts for providing grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches for students. “It’s definitely helping all the food pantries and soup kitchens in the community,” she said. “I’m still stressing but I don’t have to stress as much.”

Like other not-for-profits, Karing Kitchen is looking to those in the community who can help to support them. 100% of all donations go directly to food costs, King said.

Even during all of this, King is carrying on her annual homeless awareness sleep-out to raise awareness for the homeless in the community.

“My annual sleepout is March 27 and I’m doing it differently this year,” King said. “This year, I’ll be sleeping in a car as some of our families do in an undisclosed location. It’s to maintain that social distancing while still raising awareness.”

“It’s even harder [for the homeless] during this,” she continued. “Couches they may have been able to stay on are no longer available because their friends have locked the doors. It’s a scary situation for everyone but more so for our homeless population.”

King said the homeless could normally take a bit longer with their meal at a restaurant or go to a library to do some job hunting.

“But now, all those places are closed,” she said. “They don’t have access to anything.”

It’s a new reality for everyone in New York, King said, but people are still looking to help each other in any way they can.

She couldn’t say who but according to King, a number of restaurants in the greater Oneida area had to close their doors.

“They donated the food they thought would expire before they returned to work to Karing Kitchen,” Melissa said. “We prepared that and got it out to families.”

On top of this, places like All Seasonings provided donations due to canceled events and the Oneida’s Club offered to help deliver meals.

“People are looking out for each other and neighbors,” King said. “Even in the past, we’d get calls from people asking if a family had been taken care of because they didn’t know if they were okay. And we’re still seeing that.”

In the face of COVID-19, King said the most important thing is to stay connected. “We’ve seen a hashtag pop-up and we’ve been putting it on all of our posts. ‘#AloneTogether’,” King said. “Even though we are along in our homes, we are still together as a community. There are things we can do together.”

King urged everyone to get in touch with their local church, food pantry, or soup kitchen to see how they can help. Even donations are important.

“We need more donations because the food costs are up and we’re all trying to stay on top of that,” King said.

To friends and family, King encouraged people to get in touch with them, even if its just to talk to them.

“I’m not going near my grandchildren because of social distancing and that’s hard for me,” King said. “But I’m sending them messages to them they can share with their parents.”

Oneida’s a social community, she continued, so she knows how hard it is for people to limit their contact — even if it is temporary.

“We’re pausing our lives and we plan on resuming,” King said. “But right now, we’re pausing to make sure everyone’s safe.”

To learn more about Karing Kitchen, visit the website at http://www.karingkitchen.org/ or visit the Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Karing-Kitchen-155376017886095/

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