The Interfaith Hospitality Network of Warren County is headquartered at 203 E. Warren St. in Lebanon.

Coronavirus: Warren County scrambling to meet food, assistance needs

The Interfaith Hospitality Network, which under normal circumstances houses the county’s homeless at rotating locations, has been forced to find hotel rooms due to social distancing rules set in hopes of limiting exposure to the novel coronavirus, said Aaron Reid, director of the United Way of Warren County.

From Springboro to Lebanon to Waynesville, demand is challenging supply.

“Things have almost quadrupled,” said Wendy Ford, director of the Springboro Community Assistance Center. “We were open twice a month before. Now we are opened twice a week (Mondays and Wednesdays).”

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Warren County is ranked third among Ohio counties, based on per capita income. Springboro is one of its wealthiest communities.

In March, the city’s food pantry and assistance center served about 900 families, more than double the number served in an average month, according to Ford.

“The majority of the families we are seeing, we’ve never seen before,” Ford said Thursday. She said they are typically low to middle income families seeking assistance after a working member is laid off.

On Wednesday, “It was the most we’d ever had at one time,” Ford added.

Donations from the Warren County Foundation, Springboro and Clearcreek Twp. governments have helped, as well as local individuals. She estimated 75% of local churches had food drives or made cash donations.

“The community’s been wonderful,” she said.

While grateful for GoFundMe drives, she advised proceeds come in 41 to 70 days later.

“Anything for us right now is huge,” she said.

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The quick surge in demand, sparked by changes made as COVID-19 showed up in the community, left assistance centers unprepared for the heightened demand. Shared Harvest in Fairfield, Butler County, resupplied the Springboro center with 5,000 pounds of food gone in two days, according to Ford.

She predicted the need would extend beyond the time of stay-at-home restrictions.

“Once everything gets lifted, there will be a huge backlash,” said Ford, also an intervention specialist for the Springboro school district. “We’ll have to rebuild what we lost.”

Ford expressed appreciation for the county funding, along with all the other contributions.

“Every single thing that everybody does makes a humongous difference,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Warren County Board of Commissioners agreed to send along $30,000 for food pantries to assist pantries and food and assistance centers in Lebanon, Franklin, Springboro, Waynesville, Morrow, Kings and Mason.

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Aaron Reid, CEO of the United Way of Warren County and non-profit Warren County Community Services, said the county’s Interfaith Hospitality Network traveling homeless shelter system also needed money.

Rather than beds set up in volunteer churches, families - some left homeless by the pandemic’s economic impact - are put up in hotels, to prevent exposure to and spread of the novel coronavirus in the traditional setting.

The network is paying for the rooms through an agreement with area hotels. A grant through a regional recovery fund set up by the United Way and Warren County Foundation and funded by local businesses will cover future hotel-room expenses.

A total of $300,000 is available for COVID-19 relief for non-profits. The grant awards are handled by the Warren County Foundation.

County Commissioner Dave Young indicated he wanted the money distributed soon. The check to United Way is to be cut next week.

“The worst of the times are going to be the next couple of weeks,” Young said. “If they need more, come back.”

Reid said quick action could prop up centers scrambling to replenish supplies depleted by recent demand.

“Getting some immediate cash in their hands would be very worthwhile,” Reid said. “The money is drying up quick.”

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