Drastic increases in food, fuel cost calls for more help

Drastic increases in food, fuel cost calls for more helpBy LAURA QUEZADA

News Review Staff Writer “Don’t lose hope, your community loves you,” is one of the messages that Gina Noble, the Corps Officer for the Salvation Army in Ridgecrest, wants people who are struggling with today’s economy to know. “We understand and we’re going to help you in the ways that we can and you’re not alone. We remind everyone that everything that is given comes from their community who loves them. That is our message around here. You are loved you’re not forgotten. It’s gonna be okay. We know it’s a tough time now. But your community wants to support you.”

Noble emphasizes, “It is so much easier to keep someone housed that is housed rather than to try to rehouse.” She doesn’t use the word “homeless,” explaining “ I don’t use that term because this is home. This is your community. You just don’t live in the traditional structure of a house, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not home. This is home.” Noble wants to dispel the stereotypical notion of what a unhoused person is. “We have to look upon people who are unhoused as truly being just like us; there just were some things in life that changed. Whether it started with job loss, whether it started with a relational trauma, it starts somehow. But once it begins, it goes down very quickly.

Our unhoused oftentimes have a couch; they often have a network of people that let them in when it’s really cold. We don’t have a significant unhoused population, but those that we do have, we know by name, we see them in the same public places. And they’re often very well supported with some of the immediate needs. They are usually kind of well fed. A lot of sandwiches coming out of the grocery stores and even fast food from the restaurants. It’s the unhoused part that is difficult. We do have an unhoused population. It’s not big, but it is real. And what does someone who is unhoused need? A house and that is so much easier said than done.”

Noble is on the frontline of help along with the many organizations in Ridgecrest that reach out to help those in need. “There is a whole network here of everyone working together,” says Noble. “I think that’s what I love most about this community.” She tells us the network includes “the churches, the service organizations, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Ridgecrest Veterans Advisory Council, Oasis Community Action Partners of Kern County (CAPK) or we’ll learn about a need from the Lions or the Moose or the Elks.” These groups work together to provide a helping hand and keep people safe. They know what each other has to offer and will refer as needed.

Unfortunately, needs are rapidly ramping up. “We have had a dramatic increase since we began tracking October 1, 2021. Since that timeframe, we have now had over 800 new households register with us here at the Salvation Army in Ridgecrest. Last week we had 40 in one week. For the financial direct payment assistance we offer, the requests have doubled from a year ago.”

Noble explains, “Inflation. That’s what it is. We’re seeing at it the gas pumps now, but it was actually earlier evidenced in food prices, which are continuing to climb. It has taken a very sudden and dramatic increase and the projections are that it will continue to increase. So for someone who has already been living paycheck to paycheck, and here locally, this could be before our earthquakes before the pandemic and now kind of the tipping point into the essentials like your housing, your rent, the cost of your food, your utilities, your medicines, and even keeping your car running with gas is no longer possible. There are so many people that simply live moment to moment with the income that they have.

I don’t think you can ever measure the stress that takes on a parent who just wants to make sure their child is well taken care of or what we’re seeing more of now is parents watching their kids struggle to raise their grandkids because the price of everything is so crazy in comparison to what they’re making, and they’re working hard. Most people don’t realize that these marginalized people work. They come in saying, ‘I’m so sorry. I have to ask for help.’ I didn’t see a single person last week that wasn’t working.”

The Salvation Army has many different avenues of assistance. They used to see needs amplify at the end of the month but it has started happening the last few weeks of the month now. Income received at the beginning of the month does not stretch far enough.

Everything the Salvation Army does is from donations and they keep local. Their twice weekly food giveaway is an example. “We will give out over half a million pounds of food this year. It’s interesting because it used to be about 40 to 45,000 pounds of food a month and now it is up about 65,000.” Some of the food comes from CAPK in Bakersfield, “also through our local retailers in Feeding America and what they call Fresh Rescue. We pick up the food that is not sold at the stores and we distribute it in a very timely manner out to the community. We have wonderful support from Albertsons, from our locally owned Grocery Outlet, from Walmart and from the Stater Brothers Foundation. We also have amazing service organizations, churches and youth organizations like the Boy Scouts, for example, who have food drives. It all comes here. It is donated, stored, sorted, packaged and given right back out.”

The Salvation Army also keeps on hand “convenience food bags that have good healthy proteins and things that we need to nourish our bodies, but also convenience food that you just add water to or put in the microwave. And most of that food actually came from our local Boy Scout troop asking us specifically what do you need?” The bags are for “the several handfuls of beautiful people in our community,” says Noble, “that are unhoused, but they’re not unloved. And when they come here, we help in every way we can and sometimes it really is just a comfortable place to sit. A cup of coffee and a cookie go a long way and then, ‘Here’s your convenience bag.’”

They also offer financial assistance. $100 towards SoCal Edison bills, up to $200 toward water bills, $40 for out of town medical visits. Noble says, “That doesn’t seem like a lot but that is still money that can go to your rent to keep you housed.” Although their focus is on families, veterans and seniors on fixed incomes, Noble assures, “We don’t discriminate upon who we help.”

Volunteers are key to helping the Salvation Army do their good. Since Gina and her husband Chris took leadership in Ridgecrest, 114 new volunteers have signed up. “ A half of our new volunteers are people that we have served. That is important because the real good way to help yourself is to help someone else. But what this is doing, it’s restoring dignity. It’s restoring, ‘Hey, I might I make a difference and I have something to give and I want to help my neighbor.’ It’s real easy to volunteer here on most weekday mornings, nine to one or you can do a nine to 11 if a two-hour shift is what’s best for you. You can register online at https://volunteer.usawest.org Or you can just come in with some real simple paperwork and we will plug you in so that you can contribute and you can serve.”

The Salvation Army gives much more than we can talk about in this story. To learn more you can visit their website: https://ridgecrest.salvationarmy.org/ There are also many ways one can donate and help them in their good works. Their most immediate need is of tax deductible monetary donations which are kept 100% local and can be mailed to P.O. Box 189, Ridgecrest, 93556 Find more on Facebook: The Salvation Army Corps Center for Worship and Service.

Laura Austin Photo: Gina Noble, Corps Officer for the Salvation Army in Ridgecrest holds cans of spaghetti sauce next to some of the Salvation Army’s food stores ready for distribution.

Story First Published: 2022-03-25