POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Homeless Shelter hosts a soup kitchen and community pantry program to aide eligible community members, though eligibility requirements vary for each program to reach the most people.
“What we’re seeing is we have an increase in the amount of soup kitchen compared to food boxes since COVID,” said John Machir, director of homeless services.
Machir said since COVID, the soup kitchen has seen more of an increase, where the emergency food boxes have seen a decrease. He believes this is due to the changes in SNAP program funding.
“Our soup kitchen, we’ve done 52 meals so far this month, we still have today [Aug. 31]. Since the first of August we’ve done 52 soup kitchen meals,” Machir said.
With the different programs available, Machir said the shelter wants to ensure those in need are aware of various eligibility guidelines to make sure they get the programs needed.
“The main thing is because we’re seeing the numbers of people that are homeless on the street actually increasing, those numbers and meals are going up and we have limited resources to be able to do that, so we want to make sure people are going to the right program,” Machir said.
The soup kitchen is supplied through donations, both monetary and food, from the community. It offers one meal per person per day and is only available for those without housing.
“The soup kitchen is only available to individuals who are homeless,” Machir said. “[Those] on the streets, living in places not designated as housing — parks, posts office lobbies, barns, sheds, trails, along the river etc. — or in a place defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development as a place not fit for human habitation.”
Eligibility guidelines are posted at the Mason County Homeless Shelter.
“We do have the information posted on the side door of the office here at the shelter,” Machir said. “To explain whose eligible for soup kitchen, [and] who’s not. And whose eligible for [an] emergency food box.”
Those who need food assistance and are not eligible for the soup kitchen may be eligible for an emergency food box. Box eligibility is related to income and set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Machir said.
Eligible households may receive one food box per month, as they are designed for an emergency food shortage.
To be eligible for an emergency food box, person(s) need to fall below the gross monthly income for the household size as follows:
One person- $1,354.00
Two persons- $1,832.00
Three persons- $2,311.00
Four persons- $2,790.00
Five persons- $3,269.00
Six persons- $3,748.00
Seven persons- $4,227.00
Eight persons- $4,705.00
Any household that exceeds eight members should add $479 per person.
While the number of those classified as homeless has increased, the homeless shelter has stayed at capacity with more waiting.
“We’re 100% full up right now,” Machir said. “There really aren’t other resources here, we have to refer them. We’re the only homeless service for 40 miles in any direction from us.”
Machir said they have to refer people to shelters in Huntington and Charleston, West Virginia and Portsmouth and Athens, Ohio.
A difficult part of referring people to other shelters is transportation. There is only an option for Huntington through public transportation right now.
“We can’t really provide that transportation ourselves,” Machir said. “I will say, as far as Huntington they can take our public transit down — Monday, Wednesday, Friday — to the Dollar General in Lesage, where they can pick up another transit bus going into Huntington.”
Prior to COVID-19, the shelter was raising funds to help build a new and expanded shelter to help accommodate more people. The pandemic put that project on hold.
“We ended up having to cancel that project because of COVID,” Machir said. “The cost of building materials went all over the place. The building started out at a reasonable, $750,000 to buy the land and build the building and then it went to $1.5 million. So, it doubled. We simply didn’t have another $750,000 lying around.”
Machir said funding from the Affordable Housing Fund had to be returned, as well, for missing deadline. He said several other programs faced the same issue.
As of now, the future of a new building is unknown.
“We’re looking at our options but there’s nothing definite,” Machir said.
As far as assisting the shelter, Machir said food donations are always welcome and appreciated.
“We are always in need of meat — whether it’s canned meat [or] frozen meat — as long as it’s appropriately in [its] processed package…,” Machir said. “We use it not only for our emergency food boxes, but for our soup kitchen and to feed folks here at the shelter.”
The food pantry is dwindling at the moment, Machir said. Funding the shelter used from the USDA was scaled back and it has been difficult to replace.
Machir said those who wish to donate can give them a call before coming and they will make sure someone is there to help them.
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Brittany Hively is a staff writer with Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (740) 444-4303.