Snow storm has long-term impacts on at-risk residents

Snowstorm has long-term effects on Williamsburg's needy

On Monday morning, the area still covered in sheets of snow and ice, United Way's Community Resource Center received a timely donation.

As result of a canceled order, The Catering Company donated nearly 3,000 boxed lunches, food that United Way quickly dispersed throughout Williamsburg to Avalon Center, Community of Faith emergency shelter, St. Bede's Outreach Center, area motels and others.

By mid-afternoon, just a third of the lunches remained.

For Williamsburg's low-income and vulnerable populations, a meal could make all the difference in dealing with the after-effects of snow.

"For the rest of us, it's inconvenient and annoying. But for those who need every penny that they earn … it's a big deal," said Sharon Gibson-Ellis, executive director at United Way of Greater Williamsburg. "Missing a day at work is catastrophic for some of these families."

The Community Resource Center sees between 700 and 900 low-income clients per month, many of whom work hourly jobs.

With businesses closed and transportation hindered, losing paid hours means losing essential income for those employees.

"It isn't an immediate thing necessarily, but there will be a trickle effect of people not being able to go to work," Gibson-Ellis said.

This could lead to inability pay bills due the first of the month, to make car payments, to pay rent or motel bills, setting those in poverty back further.

"It's just a revolving cycle," said Community Resource Center manager Charvalla West. "Poverty is extremely cyclical."

For those with children, snow storms don't always result in fun snow days. School closed for three days means three days of children without access to free and reduced-priced breakfast and lunches in schools.

Paul Scott, executive director of Child Development Resources, said some families might struggle to find child care during days of canceled school, thus reducing work hours.

"For a family already living precariously, that is a very, very dangerous series of events to have to face," Scott said. "The stress levels are pretty substantial."

Of the 1,000 families Child Development Resources serves in Greater Williamsburg, Scott said close to 60 percent live close to the poverty line.

Many of the organizations which help Williamsburg's needy are volunteer based, meaning those agencies might close due to snow, cutting off the resources they provide to at-risk residents. On Monday, FISH was unable to open because of the snow.

West encountered a family with three young children, currently living in a motel, who walked through the snow to the resource Center on Monday. They sought a referral to FISH for food, and United Way was able to provide the family some boxed lunches.

Williamsburg's Faith in Action, assisting nearly 500 area senior citizens each year with daily activities and transportation, was busy Monday morning trying to reschedule visits that were canceled Friday and Monday, including medical appointments. Executive director Rita Smith said it would likely be Thursday before Faith in Action would catch up on rescheduling.

For many seniors, after snow, "They're shut in. Often, disconnected from the community," Smith said. For those unable to clear their walkways, "They're waiting for sun to melt the ice and the snow before they can begin to go out again," she said.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-275-4934.

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