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Temporary increases in FoodShare benefits were "a real lifesaver" for many people, helping them to rely less upon pantries like The BRICK's, Seefeldt said. But even with that life preserver helping hundreds of BayArea families survive, some still went hungry this year.
As of Oct. 31, the BRICK had distributed more than $479,500 in donated food, up about $65,000 from the same period last year. Seefeldt said those totals don't include food the pantries went out and purchased with donated funds.
"By the end of 2019 The BRICK had distributed donated food valued at $504,100 and we're well on our way to distributing at least that much and likely more, since our monthly average value of donated food we receive is $48,700," she said. "Much of that additional food has been through some of those same COVID-19 relief programs that our consumers have been benefiting from, and if Congress doesn't act to extend these programs, then The BRICK will not see so much extra food, and — more importantly – we won't be able to pass that on to folks who will need the pantry when their benefits expire."
That's the looming crisis that Seefeldt most fears. Her agency has been receiving extra commodities in addition to regular federal commodity programs, but those extras shipments will stop at the end of the year, as will several other special programs coming through the non-profit world.
That will leave the organization trying to feed hundreds more families than normal without any additional government help — help that has enabled the BRICK to do its work in unprecedented times.
"The individuals and corporations and the other non-profits have all just stepped up and come to support our organization, which in turn supports our community," she said.
But even if predictions for a vaccine come true, it will take until the end of 2021 to get everyone inoculated. So Seefeldt has to prepare for the pandemic to continue leaving families to go hungry.
"You talk about real people, it's impacting real people right here in our community," she said.
In fact the demand for food from the BRICK likely will jump as people reach the end of money from stimulus checks and the enhanced unemployment program.
Seefeldt suspects the up-and-down use of the food shelf this year has been due to people who have been reluctant to use the facility because they had cash on hand. She said that could change as people run out of cash. When utility, rental and mortgage moratoriums also end, people could find themselves facing enormous bills for back rent and overdue mortgage payments.
"It has been very beneficial for a lot of people to have those moratoriums, but once they end, whenever that is, there are going to a flood of people who have $3,000 overdue electric bills," she said. "That's a real problem. We anticipate when those moratoriums finally end, then there are going to be a ton of people in a world of hurt, and that is what worries me."
Seefeldt said the best hope for those families might be that the incoming Biden administration recognizes the continuing financial crisis many people find themselves in and works with Congress to deliver more relief.
"I hope our elected officials at every level recognize that it is individuals who make up a country and individuals who drive our economy and it is individuals who need assistance every bit as much as the businesses that employ them," she said.
Liz Seefeldt compares the condition of the food shelf at The BRICK Ministries to a man walking towards the edge of a cliff.
"So far we are doing well, but we are getting closer to the edge of that cliff," said Seefeldt, executive director of the Ashland-based organization.
So far, so good. But Seefeldt fears that by the end of the year, that could change for the worse.
Though the number of people seeking food at The BRICK has not gone up over last year, the amount of food distributed is up dramatically.
"Food insecurity in the middle of a pandemic is complicated," said Seefeldt. "Back when the stimulus was rolled out, consumers had a little extra in their pockets and didn't feel the need to use the pantry."
A new Washburn business offers people who want to create something unique the opportunity to produce one-of-akind ceramics for themselves or as gifts.
The Blue Van Studio is a small shop, tucked away in what was Dick's Clipper Shop at 108 W. Bayfield St.
Owner Jen Lutz said the name harkens back to when she operated the business out of a blue Volkswagen camper van with a simple concept.
"You paint the pottery, any artistic level, any age. You can do whatever you like — paint, stamp, stencil, marbling or bubble paint, silkscreens or etching. There are a lot of techniques you can use," she said. "Then you leave it, we fire it and you pick up the completed project."
The concept provides precast pottery bisque items from mugs and coffee cups to bowls and planters — even electric light switch covers.
The studio is a part-time gig for Lutz who was a counselor for 10 years at the Ashland School District and recently began working in the same position for the Washburn School District. The Blue Van opened in October and has been well received, she said.
The shop comes with a back
yard where she envisions setting up tables in the summer, allowing people to work on their projects in the fresh air with a view of Lake Superior.
"Potentially there will be more than pottery down the road, I see it as a place to socialize hang out and get on with your suntan," she said.
That is for the future. For now, the studio is open by appointment only because of the spike in COVID cases in the state. Lutz said the studio offers customers an outlet, a chance to get out of the house and do something interesting for a change.
"It's a way to get creative, but you don't have to spend a whole lot of money and you don't have to be very artistic," she said.
NEW YORK — Don't even think of putting the mask away anytime soon.
Despite the expected arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in just a few weeks, it could take several months — probably well into 2021 — before things get back to something close to normal in the U.S. and Americans can once again go to the movies, cheer at an NBA game or give Grandma a hug.
The first, limited shipments of the vaccine would mark just the beginning of what could be a long and messy road toward the end of the pandemic that has upended life and killed more than a quarter-million people in the U.S. In the meantime, Americans are being warned not to let their guard down.
"If you're fighting a battle and the cavalry is on the way, you don't stop shooting; you keep going until the cavalry gets here, and then you might even want to continue fighting," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, said last week.
This week, AstraZeneca became the third vaccine maker to say early data indicate its shots are highly effective. Pfizer last week asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization to begin distributing its vaccine, and Moderna is expected to do the same any day. Federal officials say the first doses will ship within a day of authorization.
But most people will probably have to wait months for shots to become widely available. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also each require two doses, meaning people will have to go back for a second shot after three and four weeks, respectively, to get the full protection.
Moncef Slaoui, head of the U.S. vaccine development effort, said on CNN Sunday that early data on the Pfizer and Moderna shots suggest about 70% of the population would need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity — a milestone he said is likely to happen in May.
But along the way, experts say the logistical challenges of the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history and public fear and misinformation could hinder the effort
and kick the end of the pandemic further down the road.
"It's going to be a slow process and it's going to be a process with ups and downs, like we've seen already," said Dr. Bill Moss, an infectiousdisease expert at Johns Hopkins University.
SHOTS IN ARMS
Once federal officials give a vaccine the goahead, doses that are already being stockpiled will be deployed with the goal of "putting needles in people's arms" within 24 to 48 hours, said Paul Mango, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official involved in the Operation Warp Speed effort to develop COVID-19 vaccines.
Those first shipments are expected to be limited and will be directed to high-risk groups at designated locations, such as front-line health care workers at hospitals.
Federal and state officials are still figuring out exactly how to prioritize those most at risk, including the elderly, prison inmates and homeless people. By the end of January, HHS officials say, all senior citizens should be able to get shots, assuming a vaccine becomes available by the end of 2020.
For everyone else, they expect widespread availability of vaccines would start a couple of months later.
To make shots easily accessible, state and federal officials are enlisting a vast network of providers, such as pharmacies and doctor's offices.
But some worry long lines won't be the problem.
"One of the things that may be a factor that hasn't been discussed that much is: 'How many will be willing to be vaccinated?'" said Christine Finley, director of Vermont's immunization program. She noted the accelerated development of the vaccine and the politics around it have fueled worries about safety.
Even if the first vaccines prove as effective as suggested by early data, they won't have much impact if enough people don't take them.
NO MAGIC BULLET
Vaccines aren't always effective in everyone: Over the past decade, for example, seasonal flu vaccines have been effective in about 20% to 60% of people who get them.
AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna say early trial data suggest their vaccine candidates are about 90% or more effective. But those rates could change by the time the studies end.
Also, the definition of "effective" can vary.
Rather than prevent infection entirely, the first COVID-19 vaccines might only prevent illness. Vaccinated people might still be able to transmit the virus, another reason experts say masks will remain crucial for some time.
Another important aspect of vaccines: They can take awhile to work.
The first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine might bring about a degree of protection within a couple of weeks, meaning people who get infected might not get as sick as they otherwise would. But full protection could take up to two weeks after the second shot — or about six weeks after the first shot, said Deborah Fuller, a vaccine expert at the University of Washington.
People who don't understand that lag could mistakenly think the vaccine made them sick if they happen to come down with COVID-19 soon after a shot. People might also blame the vaccine for unrelated health problems and amplify those fears online.
"All you need is a few people getting on social media," said Moss of Johns Hopkins University.
There's also the possibility of real side effects. COVID-19 vaccine trials have to include at least 30,000 people, but the chances of a rare side effect turning up are more likely as growing numbers of people are vaccinated.
Even if a link between the vaccine and a possible side effect seems likely, distribution of shots might not be halted if the risk is deemed small and is outweighed by the benefits, said Dr. Wilbur Chen, a vaccine expert at the University of Maryland.
But Chen said public health officials will need to clearly explain the relative risks to avoid public panic.
Depending on whether the virus mutates in coming years and how long the vaccine's protection lasts, booster shots later on may also be necessary, said Dr. Edward Belongia, a vaccine researcher with the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in Wisconsin.
Belongia and many others say the coronavirus won't ever be stamped out and will become one of the many seasonal viruses that sicken people. How quickly will vaccines help reduce the threat of the virus to that level?
"At this point, we just need to wait and see," Belongia said.