During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been very little semblance of normal in our daily lives.

Fortunately, for Hamblen County residents, Morristown-Hamblen Central Services has continued to provide services to those who need it.

“Over the last few months, life has shifted in a direction that is new to all of us,” Central Services Executive Director Ashley Hux said. “Instead of seeing advertisements surrounding the latest trends in clothing, we now see the latest face mask prints available online.  These uncertain times we live in have forced us to find new ways to connect, adapt, work, and even serve… and this all holds true at Central Services.”

Hux took time this week to share what Central Services has done differently in order to continue serving the community with love and compassion, in the most safe and responsible ways possible.

Food Pantry

At the beginning of COVID-19, Central Services shifted their food pantry process to drive-thru only so fresh food could still be given to families in need.

“Although this has been more work and we have less help (no volunteers or work training participants), we are committed to meeting the need for food throughout this crisis,” Hux said. “We are wearing masks during the intake and distribution process to protect clients and staff, while maintaining increased sanitizing practices.”

The main lobby area at Central Services has remained closed to the public during this time.

Financial Assistance

Hux said that all financial assistance is continuing with the use of telephone calls and email.

“We have continued our usual call log and triage system to vet requests for emergency services.  The biggest difference has been that the client does not come in to meet face to face with a caseworker, but instead the interview and assessment are completed over the phone,” Hux said. “Vendors (utility companies, landlords, mortgage companies, pharmacies, etc.) have been very receptive in regards to a modified process for voucher remittance and our clients seem to appreciate our precautions.”

Thrift Store closure, reopening

The thrift store was closed in mid-March due to COVID-19. The store is attempting to reopen now.

“The closure of the thrift store was devastating for many reasons, and particularly because we rely on the proceeds to keep the agency working towards its mission,” Hux said. “Furthermore, our store serves as a staple for families to shop in because it is so affordable.”

The store has been closed for 12 weeks during the pandemic.

“At this point, the goal is to open as close to our normal hours as possible,” Hux said. “We have placed Plexiglas shields at the cash register, hand sanitizer stations throughout, signage to remind of social distancing, and even arrows on the floor in the clothing department for guidance. We are trying to be diligent, but as a non-profit with stretched resources, you can imagine the strain it has placed on us, along with so many other small businesses,” Hux said.

By the Numbers

Since mid-March Central Services has:

Provided food to 2,300 families or 7,500 individuals

Provided utility assistance to more than 502 families, or 1,380 individuals

Provided rental assistance to 55 families, or 137 individuals

Senior Farmers Market

Central Services is currently signing up Hamblen County senior citizens for Farmers Market vouchers. 

“We do this every year in partnership with the Hamblen County Health Department, but of course, this year has looked a bit different.  Those that wish to sign up can do so through a drive-up process and remain in their vehicle while we come out and certify their application.  At the end of the month, we will hold a large voucher distribution event via drive-thru at Central Services,” Hux said.

Adjusting to the “new normal”

Finally, Hux said that she would be far from the truth if she said that Central Services has had no problems adjusting to this “new normal.”

“I would be lying if I said it has been “smooth sailing” and that we have all adjusted with no problems. I’m not sure anyone can truthfully say that.  But what I do know is that we have grown; we have learned how to love each other in a more meaningful way and to never take time together for granted.  We have rediscovered how essential trust within our small staff family is to the entire (miraculous) process we engage in each day at Central Services.  We have all had to figure out how to be a bit more comfortable with being uncomfortable, and let’s face it, we all despise the masks, but no matter what comes our way, the mission of this agency remains the same and we will do our best to carry that out,” she said.

For more information on Morristown-Hamblen Central Services, call 423-586-9431. Donations may be mailed to Central Services at P.O. Box 1622, Morristown 37816. Donations are also accepted through the website, mhcentralservices.org.