Douglas County Commission approves additional funding to help local food bank amid pandemic

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission

County Administrator Sarah Plinksy speaks to the Douglas County Commission during its meeting on Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

A local food bank that’s seen a significant increase in clients amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be getting some extra funding from Douglas County to help feed those in need.

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday voted to provide up to $100,000 in additional funding to Just Food for the current year. The extra money will help Just Food close a roughly $200,000 budget hole, which stemmed from a sudden surge in clients as pandemic-related lockdowns caused many residents to lose their jobs.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said it’s not just individuals who are struggling during the pandemic, and that Just Food and other local organizations need more resources at a time when more people in the community are in need.

“It was quickly identified that the dramatic increase in output that Just Food has been putting out since March was going to take a toll on their budget,” Plinsky told the commission on Wednesday. “Frankly, Just Food is already in the hole from what they’ve been putting out into the community,” she later added.

The City of Lawrence has also committed up to $100,000 of funding to the food bank, according to a memo to county commissioners. The memo said the additional funding from local governments will allow Just Food to feed county residents through October.

The commissioners all voiced support for the new funding, and they said they thought Just Food had significantly stepped up to meet the needs of Douglas County residents during the pandemic.

Commissioner Nancy Thellman said the food bank normally does a good job of fundraising on its own, but that its fundraising events have been canceled because of the pandemic. She also called the food bank “really sharp,” adding she didn’t believe the organization would ask for additional funding unless it really needed it.

“If ever there was an agency in our community that dives in and does the work without complaint or hesitation (it would be Just Food),” Thellman said. “This is Douglas County’s money, and I think this is a good way for us to have everybody come to Just Food’s aid right now.”

Brooke Sauer, a county budget technician, told the commissioners she is currently looking into federal and state grants to help the county cover the extra funding.

In other business, the commission approved an extension of its local state of emergency declaration for the pandemic. The declaration was extended by 60 days, retroactive to Thursday, May 14.

Commissioners also met for a work session with county zoning staff to discuss active zoning permits. The zoning staff has been conducting a review of all permits in the county with the goal of identifying how many permits have been issued, whether they are up to date and what resources are needed to reach full compliance.

Ben Harris, an administrative zoning specialist, told the commissioners the zoning staff plans to work on remedying more than 200 cases where home businesses are out of compliance, conditional use permits are no longer valid or property owners are violating zoning regulations.

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