As unemployment claims continue to be filed, Cherokee County residents are seeking help from organizations and the community at large during a time of need.
Georgia Department of Labor statistics show local initial unemployment claims from March 28 to May 2 total 37,262. The majority of claims were filed April 11 at 9,857 applications which came shortly after a statewide shelter-in-place order was put into place that closed many non-essential businesses. The number of initial claims fell to 4,797 applications by May 2.
Many individuals have been placed in vulnerable situations due to COVID-19, according to organizations such as MUST Ministries in Canton and Never Alone Food Pantry in Woodstock.
“I think the most telling statistic is that about half the people coming through our emergency drive-through food distributions are new to MUST and have never received services before,” said Kendall Jones, MUST Ministries community liaison for Cherokee County. “They say ‘I’ve never had to do this before’ or, ‘I used to be a donor and now I’m having to receive services.’”
Similar interactions have been shared by Never Alone.
“What I have been hearing a lot of from the new people is, ‘we have never done this before’ and ‘we don’t know what to do,’” said Millie Hughes, Never Alone director of operations and community relations liaison.
Hughes said people talk to Never Alone staff about recently losing their jobs, how money has been tight and how many do not have enough food in their pantry to get through the week.
“I had a young mom come in and she and her significant other both worked in the restaurant industry. They had been cut so severely. They were talking about how they just weren’t making any money at all because there is nobody coming in,” Hughes said. “That really hit hard…those are stories that we have heard repeated.”
Never Alone served 412 families in February, 577 families in March, and 2,109 families in April — a total of 8,724 individuals.
“We distributed over 114,000 pounds of food into the community,” Hughes said. “We can alleviate some of that financial pressure and provide them with food instead — they can divert those funds into what they need to to make sure they can continue to maintain proper housing and transportation.”
Hughes added that since the statewide shelter-in-place order that expired April 30 for most people, Never Alone has increased the amount of drive-thru distributions, which will continue through May.
“The financial situations many people are in are not going to go away overnight, so we are here for the long haul,” Hughes said.
From March 16 to April 23, MUST’s Canton location provided approximately 19,400 meals to about 800 families — a total of approximately 12 tons of food.
“It is a lifeline,” Jones said, adding that they have been giving out as much food in three weeks as it typically does in four.
MUST also provides financial assistance, shelter options and employment assistance.
In Cherokee, MUST has increased its amount of financial assistance with rent and utility payments to three households a week, according to Jones.
For those without housing, MUST has a housing program in Cherokee, including Permanent Supportive Housing and Rapid Rehousing.
“Sometimes we are able to place people in motels, thanks to a grant from Woodstock City Church and other money we have for that program,” Jones said of housing options outside of MUST’s shelter in Marietta, Elizabeth Inn.
Workforce Development is also available through MUST for those needing help with employment.
“Our Workforce Development Specialist has been working from home and available via his office phone, so we have been able to refer clients seeking employment to him and he has been able to assist them,” Jones said. “The Workforce Development team has also been working on alternative ways to deliver services.”
None of the services would be possible without the overwhelming support of the community, according to both MUST and Never Alone.
“What we have seen is that the community has stepped up as a whole, whether it has been local businesses or individuals who have continued to pour into us financially,” Hughes said. “The community has done a beautiful job.”
Jones added the same sentiments.
“In the midst of taking care of themselves, they have been very intentional in helping take care of others as well,” Jones said. “They have continued to do that in heroic fashion.”
April area unemployment rates will be released Thursday, May 28, according to GDOL.