COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of many people in Kodiak. In some cases, the unforeseen challenges posed by the pandemic has caused difficulties in making ends meet.
In response, a group of community members who recognized the increased need created by the pandemic came together in late March to form the Kodiak Community Support Team.
The donation-based, volunteer-led group helps people who are experiencing economic hardship or mental and emotional difficulties.
One low-income couple who has benefited from the team’s work said they have been unable to work during the pandemic. The couple — who preferred to remain anonymous — suffered additional financial hardship when the pandemic put their elderly mother at risk and obligated their children to study at home.
“We’ve taken a hit,” said the husband, who receives disability insurance payments. “We hate having to ask for anything. We have always tried to be independent and care for ourselves.”
He said his wife does not work and their sons are homeschooled to avoid the chance that they could be exposed to COVID-19, and then bring it into the home and endanger his elderly mother.
With the children studying at home, internet and electricity bills have increased, and the amount of food they need to buy has skyrocketed — at a time when the price of meat has also gone up.
They have used funding from the Kodiak Community Support team to buy food, as well as stipends from the Brother Francis Shelter for help paying their electricity and water bills. They have also received help with their mortgage payments from the Salvation Army.
“With prices of food going up and electric going up, it's been a harder time having (the children) at home,” said the husband. “It’s been a tough situation, trying to protect the family and trying to survive and go through all the issues with COVID.”
Since its founding in March, the Kodiak Community Support Team has provided 25 financial gifts, two of which were for large amounts distributed to multiple households through the Salvation Army.
The gift amount is typically $500 per person, but the team has given as much as $1,000 based on need.
The organization has received 370 calls to their hotline from people wanting to speak with someone or asking for help buying groceries. This number does not include follow-up calls from people who have been helped before, or calls on volunteers’ personal phones from people in need.
The team was formed after city officials contacted Maj. Dave Davis, chaplain and co-leader of the Salvation Army, to help with grocery deliveries to high-risk community members. Davis then contacted Larry Lundstrom, the pastor of the Kodiak Community Baptist Church, to help lead the effort.
Since the organization’s inception, the services offered have expanded from grocery delivery to financial help paying for groceries, bills and other expenses. They also offer emotional support.
The group has raised more than $12,000 for families in need. As of Sept. 30, there was only $1,800 left in the fund.
Lundstrom estimated that 10% of the calls were for financial help or to deliver groceries, while 90% have come from people who wanted to talk to someone or pray.
“Everyone's mental health is being tested,” Lundstrom said, adding that people are suffering from fear and stress about the impacts of the pandemic.
During the early days of the pandemic, the hotline averaged about five calls per week. The number spiked around May, then dropped to about three per week by early August.
After the expiration of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provided $600 per week to those receiving unemployment insurance, the number of calls started to climb again.
Despite the increase in calls, finding people who will accept financial help has been difficult, Lundstrom said, adding that people feel ashamed of requesting help.
While the Kodiak Community Support Team continues with its work helping the community, Lundstrom urged everyone to keep looking after their neighbors.
“Knock on your neighbor's door and ask how they are doing,” he said. “That's the whole purpose. We are just trying to be loving neighbors. I want people to call and email. More than anything, we need to be okay with getting through the awkwardness in talking to a stranger like we used to do.”