Even with gas prices closing in on $3—who’d ever have thought that would be considered a deal?—escalating grocery bills, coupled with soaring home heating costs, have many wondering how they’re going to make it through the winter.
Those who typically do the helping are asking the same question too.
Carol Coltrain of the Schoharie County Office for the Aging is hoping her office can be proactive—rather than reactive.
With that in mind, she’s making available a state OFA checklist that runs through programs, from Medicare to EPIC to food stamps to HEAP, all intended to make tough times easier for seniors and others by putting money back in their pockets.
But, Ms. Coltrain points out, it’s not necessarily the seniors she’s the most worried about.
“Yes, it’s a scary time, but these are the people who are the real survivors,” she said. “They’ve been through worse.
“They’re used to cutting back and doing without. They know how to shop for deals, how to cook from scratch, how to put food up. Maybe we should be asking them for help instead of the other way around.”
Ray Richards, pastor of Calvary Assembly of God, said he’s hearing from people who don’t know how they’re going to fill their fuel tank.
He’s also heard that the demand on local food pantries has doubled.
“When gas prices were higher, we were finding we needed to consolidate our events or people would have to pick and choose,” Rev. Richards said.
“At least those prices are coming down. But we have made referrals to SCCAP and Catholic Charities and we’ll continue to do so. We don’t want to see anyone fall through the cracks.
“Our church as a whole has always been very generous in helping out with meals when they’re needed. We’ve always been involved with efforts like Coats for Kids and adopting families at Christmas...As a church, we try to provide a unified front. But there’s no question people are worried.”
Marilyn Janiczek of Schoharie County’s Cooperative Extension, said she’s already seeing the impact of the tough economy reflected in calls to her office.
So far this year, she’s had calls from 10 people facing foreclosure. In the five years prior to that? Not a single one.
“We used to see more people with problems like credit card debt who we could help with budgeting, but there just isn’t anywhere for the people we’re hearing from now to go,” Ms. Janiczek said. “They’re already in so much debt...We’re not seeing clear answers to people’s problems.”
Worried that people may feel forced between buying groceries and paying for gas to travel to places like Cooperative Extension, Ms. Janiczek said they’ll take all of their programs—help on food and nutrition, energy management, and money management among others—anywhere they’re invited, whether it’s a group of senior citizens or a local church.
They’re also urging people to take more advantage of community resources like free or reduced school lunches and food stamps and for those who aren’t sure if they qualify, Ms. Janiczek has been trained to fill out food stamp applications, something she can do in her office.
“Sometimes, it’s a little less intimidating that way,” she said. “Sometimes we can provide that little bridge.”
That same information is also available online at www.mybenefits.ny.gov.
Another plus of the food stamp program, Ms. Janiczek pointed out, is that anyone receiving help, even if it’s just $10 a month, is automatically put on the list for HEAP—the Home Energy Assistance Program.
“People are frightened—and rightfully so,” she said. “If we can help them free up a little money, through education or by helping them stretch the money they do have, that can help. And we’ll go to them to do it.
“We’re all in this together. We just have to help each other through it.”
Contact Extension at 234-4303 for more information on their “traveling” services.
Richard Ball of Schoharie Valley Farms said all of the vegetable farms in the Valley are seeing an interest in locally grown food, mostly from people who are more interested in knowing where their food comes from than in saving money.
But, he argues, it’s all related.
“When the economy gets a little tight, people tend to get involved in gardening again, and we did see more interest in our vegetable plants this spring,” Mr. Ball said, noting that kind of interest typically wanes when expenses moderate.
And though there’s been a little more interest in things like canning and freezing from people in their 20s and 30s, Mr. Ball said they’re more likely to hear from customers remembering when they used to buy bushels of potatoes and 50-pound bags of carrots for families that are now grown and gone.
“What we do get is people who want to know where their food is coming from, what’s in it, how we grow it—even what’s available when—and that’s great news.
“If we can do a better job utilizing the agriculture and the infrastructure and the workforce that’s already here, Schoharie County can go a long way towards becoming more self-sufficient. Less reliance on other places for things like fuel and food will mean less of an impact when times get bad.”