In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, several community agencies have found themselves working overtime.
From food distribution, daycare, tax assistance and other regularly available programs, agencies such as the Community Action Partnership of Kern (CAPK,) are feeling a heightened sense of need throughout the county.
“The most critical services that have been really impacted for us are our Food Bank and our 211 call center system which you call rather than 911 if you need special services,” said James Burger, Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator at CAPK. You just call 211 and we connect you with the help you need – homeless services, mental health, to the services of any social service agency.”
Citing much higher call rates, Burger adds that as the central food bank of Kern County, the demand for food assistance has also reached emergency numbers as distribution lines at designated pick-up sites are becoming increasingly longer.
“There was distribution on H St. last week and they had six lanes of cars in the parking lot of the church and then a mile-long line down the street.”
On average, the CAPK Food Bank distributes over 20 millions pounds of food a year with help from the Golden Empire Gleaners, local churches and 130 to 150 partner agencies who reach families in need. By truck or walk-up, Burger says every corner of the county will continue to be served even as previous monthly averages of 1.3 million pounds of food a month have jumped to between 2 to 2.2 and 2.5 million pounds a month since the pandemic.
CAPK is part of a national network of 1,000 other agencies across the nation tasked with operating anti-poverty programs that rely on federal funding for survival, making filling out your census questionnaire more important than ever.
“About 98% of all CAPK funding is from federal sources. We have state funding from the feds, so we run several contracts for services: WIC, Head Start, Food Bank. Our energy program provides utility assistance. We also weatherize homes. That’s our task and what the census funding helps us do,” says Burger.
Working in collaboration with all area census outreach to encourage residents to fill out their questionnaire by phone, mail, or Web has been part of CAPK’s mission to educate the community on the importance of the 2020 census.
“The economic profile of our community is determined by people engaging and participating in the census. If people don’t participate, especially those who might be low-income, minority groups or who might be a little bit more nervous about the census (hard-to-count,) don’t get full counted, then it makes a change in our ability to serve those people.”
It only take a short 10-15 minutes to fill out your census questionnaire, a small sacrifice of time during quarantine that will help ease any possible future strain of resources at agencies such as CAPK who serves our families, friends, and neighbors every day.
“Not only is it important for our income and our capacity to serve, but it’s also critical information for us to know how to serve,” said Burger. “Everybody has to participate in the census, it makes a massive impact in our community. Not just for us, but for everybody.”
Your census information is safe
The Census Bureau is required by law to protect any personal information collected and keep it strictly confidential. Your answers cannot be used for law enforcement purposes or to determine your personal eligibility for government benefits. If you have not received your questionnaire or reminder in the mail, you can always call a census operator at 844-330-2020 who will answer your questions or visit 2020census.gov.
“The 21st Congressional District is one of the poorest in the nation. Kern County is one of the poorest counties in the nation, and so census data is critical to help us build the capacity for people to build a self-sustaining future to find their way into a situation where they can move forward on their own,” says Burger.
Emergency food boxes
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CAPK has also been distributing emergency food boxes every weekday all over Kern County. Residents are asked to call 211 for information on the next safe food pick-up location or help with finding an agency for assistance.
“We deliver to every community in Kern County on a regular basis and schedule. We were up in Twin Oaks, in the middle of Caliente. So, we literally drive trucks up to every community in Kern County to do food distribution. Everybody gets a chance.”