Need Help Buying Food? Use These Resources

North Carolina Health & Human Services, May 8, 2020 Newsletter
  • If you already receive help buying food through Food and Nutrition Services (FNS), NCDHHS has received permission to enhance benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more.
  • As of this week, North Carolina FNS participants can purchase groceries online using their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards at authorized online EBT retailers. This flexibility will remain permanently in place beyond the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Find out if you are eligible for help buying food through FNS. See if you’re eligible.
  • If you need immediate help buying food, call 2-1-1. Parents who need food assistance for their children can text FOODNC to 877-877 to locate nearby free meal sites. The texting service is also available in Spanish by texting COMIDA to 877-877.

 

WCU to Hold Postponed Graduation in December – May 8

Smoky Mountain News, Written by Admin

It will be May in December for members of Western Carolina University’s spring graduating class of 2020 who were originally scheduled to participate in commencement ceremonies this month until the events were postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown announced Friday, May 8, the university’s plans to reschedule spring ceremonies for the weekend of Dec. 11.

Although that also will be the weekend for commencement ceremonies for members of the fall 2020 graduating class, the university is planning a separate ceremony for the May graduates, Brown said.

“Our spring graduates deserve their own commencement exercises, as do our fall graduates,” she said. “We felt that is was important to allow our graduates to participate in a ceremony with their classmates rather than try to combine them.”

Brown announced in March the postponement of all spring commencement exercises that were originally scheduled for May 8 and 9. University officials had considered a date in early August for the rescheduled ceremonies, but ongoing uncertainty regarding sufficient improvements in the COVID-19 situation combined with logistical difficulties of holding a large-scale event so close to the opening of the fall semester made the December date a better option.

To help acknowledge the spring 2020 graduating class, the Office of University Communications and Marketing developed a special online salute. It is available at commencement.wcu.edu.

Additional information, including time and date for the rescheduled commencement, will be announced later.

Parkway Announces Reopening Plans – May 8

Smoky Mountain News, Written by Holly Kayes

The Blue Ridge Parkway will soon begin opening up sections of the historic motor road that are currently closed due to coronavirus concerns.

Beginning Saturday, May 9, the southernmost 14 miles — mileposts 454 to 469 — will reopen in coordination with planned reopenings of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Qualla Boundary.

Additional gates will reopen on Friday, May 15, after initial seasonal mowing and road preparations are complete. These include:

  • Mileposts 292-296.5 near Blowing Rock, including Moses Cone Parking Area and Bass Lake Parking Lot.
  • Mileposts 298.6-308 through Grandfather Mountain area, including Rough Ridge and Linn Cove Viaduct.
  • Milepost 316.4 Linville Falls Spur Road, including parking at Linville Falls trailheads.
  • Mileposts 334-342 including Crabtree Falls Area near Little Switzerland.
  • Mileposts 355-375.6 from Mt. Mitchell to Ox Creek, including Craggy Gardens.
  • Milepost 377.4, parking areas at Craven Gap (Town Mountain Rd) for Mountains-to-Sea Trail access.
  • Milepost 384.7, roadside parking at MST Trailheads at U.S. 74A Parkway access ramps.
  • Mileposts 393 to 454 from French Broad River Overlook and south to Soco Gap.

Road maintenance projects are underway in some of these areas. Visitors may experience delays or one-lane closures and should check the Parkway’s Road Closure page at https://go.nps.gov/roadinfo for more information.

Seasonal visitor service facilities including campgrounds, picnic areas, restrooms and visitor centers remain closed at this time. In Virginia, closures are still in effect for miles 0 to 13 adjacent to Shenandoah National Park, milepost 85.9 at Peaks of Otter and milepost 92.5 at Sharp Top.

“We know the park’s recreation opportunities and scenic beauty provide important ways to connect with our natural environment during this time, and for many a leisurely drive on the Parkway provides solace,” said Parkway Superintendent J.D. Lee. “Our phased approach to the 2020 visitor season is focused on balancing the enjoyment and protection of this park with the enjoyment and protection of our visitors.  I encourage everyone who visits the Parkway in the coming days to recreate responsibly while here, whether that’s social distancing on park trails or driving safely on this beautiful, scenic drive.”

In the coming weeks, the Blue Ridge Parkway will examine each facility function and service to ensure operations comply with current public health guidance. While these areas are accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services may be limited. When recreating, the public should follow local area health orders in North Carolina and Virginia, practice Leave No Trace principles, avoid crowding and avoid high-risk outdoor activities.

Updates on park operations are available at www.nps.gov/blri and the Parkway’s social media channels. Updates about NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.

License, Registration Expiration Dates Extended 5 Months – May 11

Smoky Mountain News, Written by Admin.

To assist N.C. Division of Motor Vehicle customers and partners in dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a provision included in the COVID-19 bill signed into law today by Governor Cooper grants a five-month extension of the expiration date on more than two dozen DMV credentials.

The bill also allows the DMV to waive any penalties for a late registration renewal during the extension period. Customers who already paid a $15 fee for a late renewal in March or April will be reimbursed.

The five-month extension applies to any credential that expires on or after March 1, and before August 1. The list includes:

  • Driver license.
  • Learner’s permit.
  • Limited learner’s permit.
  • Limited provisional license.
  • Full provisional license.
  • Commercial driver license.
  • Commercial learner’s permit.
  • Temporary driving certificate.
  • Special identification card.
  • Handicapped placard.
  • Vehicle registration.
  • Temporary vehicle registration.
  • Dealer license plate.
  • Transporter plate.
  • Loaner/Dealer “LD” plate.
  • Vehicle inspection authorization.
  • Inspection station license.
  • Inspection mechanic license.
  • Transportation network company permit.
  • Motor vehicle dealer license.
  • Sales representative license.
  • Manufacturer license.
  • Distributor license.
  • Wholesaler license.
  • Driver training school license.
  • Driver training school instructor license.
  • Professional house-moving license.

The bill also extends the due dates for motor vehicle taxes that are tied to vehicle registration to correspond with the extended expiration dates. In addition, there is also an extension of the expiration of an Intrastate Medical Waiver for up to five months, if the DMV Medical Review Unit determines the extension is appropriate. And it confirms the validity of a driving eligibility certificate dated on or after Feb. 9, and before March 10, to meet the requirements for a license or permit until 30 days after the date the Governor rescinds the State of Emergency Executive Order or the date the DMV reopens all driver license offices, whichever is earlier.

Food Donation Chain In Near Gridlock, Manna Chief Says – May 11

Smoky Mountain News, Written by Admin 

[This article is not just about Jackson County, but affects us. ed.]

By Nick Peters, AVL Watchdog

The main floor of Manna FoodBank’s warehouse in Asheville is a beehive of activity as scores of staff and volunteers pack, load and wrap food for distribution. Boxes, pallets, and forklifts still abound, but the vibe has changed.

In her office, Manna CEO Hannah Randall shifts in her chair. The data points she sees on her computer screen are staggering. The pandemic has amplified the scope of poverty and hunger in Western North Carolina like nothing before.

The data is also forcing a stark realization that both sourcing and logistics must be reimagined on the fly.

Randall estimates that to meet the spike in demand for Asheville and Buncombe County in coming months, Manna will need to distribute at least 508,968 pounds of food each month representing over 424,140 meals.

“What we are seeing is that the number of people showing up at the local Markets where we directly provide food has more than doubled from 1,932 in February to 4,380 in April,” she said. “And that doesn’t include what is happening at our 200 partners across 16 Western North Carolina counties,” Randall added. “That data is still being collected.” If that data matches what is happening at the local markets, Manna estimates more than 200,000 people in Western North Carolina will be wanting for food this year, up from 100,000 last year.

“While the need is immediate and significant, this is not just a short-term issue,” Randall said. “The pandemic will eventually be handled, but this new reality will go on for a very long time.”

“Asheville will be particularly hard hit compared to other areas because a significant portion of our economy is hospitality and tourism-based,” she said. “And you’ll only have tourism if people have money and decide it’s safe to travel. Less tourism will keep our demand levels high.”

Supply and Demand

Over 80% of Manna’s food is donated by grocers, farmers, manufacturers, produce pack houses, the government, and individuals. However, the nationwide supply of food has slowed to a trickle because of the impact on general food manufacturing and distribution operations, meaning less is available for donation from all sources. “While we are seeing these increases in the number of people requiring our help, the food supply chain has been in near gridlock,” Randall said.

To fill the gap, Manna has ventured into the open market and purchased $1.6 million worth of food since early March. “This is more than we would have purchased in a normal full year,” Randall said. So far, Manna has been able to recoup that cost with cash donations from corporations, foundations and individuals.

“We’re keeping up for now,” she said, “but the long-term impact is unclear. Giving is usually strongest at the start.”

Shortages Loom

The first consequence of increased demand and dwindling supply is less food, and some of Manna’s distribution points are running out regularly.

Marie Whitener sees first-hand the growing gap. As president of the Leicester Community Center, she collects food from Manna to hand out at her community’s Welcome Table.

“We opened at 9 a.m. the other day,” she said. “Sixty boxes of food were gone in 19 minutes.”

Other relief agencies are seeing the same uptick in demand. Since the end of March, a small crew with the nonprofit Grassroots Aid Partnership has been creating and distributing free vegan meals to anyone in need from a food truck parked on Haywood Road in West Asheville in front of the mostly closed Dr. Dave’s Auto repair shop. A sign on the street reads, “Food Relief Free Food Tues-Sun 4-7.”

“The first weekend we had around 100 people every day,” said a crew member who identified himself as Mason Everyone. “The next weekend it was 130 or 140, then 180, and then we were consistently over 260 every day in that three-hour time window.”

Swannanoa-based Hearts with Hands, a natural disaster relief agency, provides after-school meals to hundreds of Buncombe County children and needy shut-ins.

“The interrupted food chain from the likes of Sam’s Club and food plants is a major deficiency for us,” said Greg Lentz, the nonprofit’s president. “Re-stocking is running 90-120 days behind…. It’s sparse; it’s not happening.” Lentz is turning to his donors, asking them to buy extra food for his organization to distribute.

Having food on hand in case of an emergency like a pandemic is not feasible for a nonprofit, Lentz said. “If we plan on overstocking food because we want to pre-empt another supply chain disruption like this one, what will we do if the food perishes or passes its expiration date? We can’t risk wasting funding on food we may need to discard,” he said. “That’s a challenge now and in the future when trying to plan ahead for something like this that may not happen again for a long time.”

Changing Labor Supply

Manna counts on volunteers – over 7,000 each year — to help pack and distribute food. About 400 of those are regulars, volunteering at least once a week. And many are also retirees, who are at risk of serious illness from Covid–19 and are staying home.

A half-day shift used to draw 35 to 40 regular volunteers who knew the routine. Now, only 2 or 3 are regulars. Manna has simplified the workflow to accommodate the newcomers.

“The volunteer mix has definitely changed,” said volunteer Scott Williams of Mars Hill. “It’s unfortunate that many of the older, more experienced ones who are at most risk have stayed away, and new volunteers have had to replace them. A lot of institutional knowledge is gone.”

What lies ahead

The pandemic has brought a sharp focus to the need in Asheville and beyond. “You know, for years people have heard about people living paycheck-to-paycheck, people living on the edge,” Randall said. “And maybe that feels abstract sometimes. It’s not abstract right now. It’s very tangible when you have more than double the number of people showing up.”

Still, Randall is optimistic. “There’s already some real ingenuity happening in Asheville, and we’re just small enough that a lot of us all really know each other and connect in the food system,” she said. “That is allowing for some entrepreneurial spirit to spring out of this situation…and getting as many people back to work as we can.”

Elected leaders in Asheville and Buncombe County are in contact with Randall and other relief agencies, assessing the need and planning for what is likely to be a long-lasting crisis. “They’ve been asking what we are seeing so that they can think ahead,” Randall said. “We need to plan for significant impacts that go way beyond the stay-at-home order.”

Randall is counting on Asheville’s spirit of generosity. “We are extremely fortunate to live in Western North Carolina through this crisis because of the Appalachian culture of caring, of checking on neighbors.”

AVL Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County.  Nick Peters is a former broadcast and newspaper reporter and producer and public radio news director. Contact us at avlwatchdog@gmail.com.

Jackson County Unveils New Local Funding Resource for Businesses in County – May 11

The Smoky Mountain News, Written by Admin

Jackson County officials have announced the creation of the All In Jackson Fund, which will provide short-term low-interest loans to businesses in the county that have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis.

The county will provide an initial $324,000 that will be dispersed in loans ranging between $2,500 and $10,000 based on need. The county will also welcome additional contributions to the fund from outside foundations and organizations, or from individuals who simply want to help out. All loans are expected to be repaid from other funding resources like SBA Disaster Loans, or other more permanent revenues from future cash flow from the businesses.

Jackson County will partner with Mountain BizWorks to administer the All In Jackson Fund. Mountain BizWorks is a nonprofit, U.S. Treasury-certified community development financial institution (CDFI) based in Asheville with 30 years of small business lending and training experience. Mountain BizWorks will leverage its current capacities to operate the fund, maximize impacts, and minimize operating expenses.

“This announcement will allow the Jackson County Office of Economic Development to immediately begin investing to shore up our small business economy.” said Director Rich Price. “By partnering with the Jackson and Cashiers Area Chambers of Commerce, the Jackson County TDA, and the SCC and WCU Small Business Centers, we can quickly and efficiently get this funding into the hands of our business owners, their employees, and their creditors, which will hopefully provide them with a bit of safe passage until we can get the local economy functioning in some new sense of normalcy.”

Price added that “it is an absolute privilege to be able to offer this type of financial support to the greater Jackson business community.”

“The Commissioners recognize that these are extraordinary times in which small businesses have been forced to operate within. Some businesses have been able to offer limited services in a survival mode, while others have not been as fortunate and have had to temporarily close their doors. The All In Jackson County Fund is the first of the Board’s efforts to provide some local relief to our local economy,” said Brian McMahan, chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

For more information visit the newly created AllInJacksonNC.com website, or visit mountianbizworks.com and click on the COVID-19 Rapid Recovery loan information page.

 

Great Smokies Begins Phased Reopening May 9 – April 30

Smoky Mountains News, by Admin

Following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local public health authorities, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is increasing recreational access and services. The National Park Service is working servicewide with federal, state, and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and using a phased approach to increase access on a park-by-park basis.

Beginning May 9, the park will reopen many roads and trails. The health and safety of employees, partners, volunteers, visitors, and local residents remains the highest priority in park reopening decisions. Park managers will examine each facility function and service provided to ensure those operations comply with current public health guidance, and will be regularly monitored. Park managers will also continue to work closely with the NPS Office of Public Health using CDC guidance to ensure public and workspaces are safe and clean for all users.

“We recognize this closure has been extremely difficult for our local residents, as well as park visitors from across the country, who seek the park as a special place for healing, exercise, recreation, and inspiration,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “We are approaching this phased reopening with that in mind, as we balance our responsibility to protect park resources and the health and safety of everyone.”

Park managers are implementing new safety measures in facility operations and services to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as areas reopen to the public. Campgrounds, picnic pavilions, visitor centers, and many secondary roads will remain closed during the first reopening phase, which is expected to last for at least two weeks. Some of these measures will include disinfectant fogging operations for restrooms and public buildings, installation of plexiglass shields at visitor centers, personal protective equipment requirements for maintenance workers, new safety protocols for emergency services staff, and reduced group size limits.

While many areas will be accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services may be limited. The park typically has more than one million visitors each month, May through October, from across the country. When recreating, the public should follow local area health orders, practice Leave No Trace principles, avoid crowding, and avoid high-risk outdoor activities. The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces prevent the spread of infectious diseases. We will continue to monitor all park functions to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19, and take any additional steps necessary to protect public health.

For the most up to date information about facility openings, service hours, and access, please visit the park website at www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/conditions.htm. Park rangers remain available to answer questions and help with trip planning via email or phone during business hours at 865.436.1291, 828.506.8620, or GRSM_Smokies_Information@nps.gov.

 

Jackson’s COVID-19 Count Now Includes 19 Residents, 13 Non-Residents – April 30

Smoky Mountain News, by Holly Kays

Two more COVID-19 cases were announced in Jackson County today, bringing the total to 19.

That number includes 17 full-time residents and two part-time residents. Official statistics will add the two part-time residents to the tally of their home county, but the Jackson County Department of Public Health continues to record the number of part-time residents diagnosed with the disease.

In addition to the 19 residents, 13 people who do not live in Jackson County were diagnosed with the virus by a Jackson County health care provider. That number has increased by three since yesterday. The health department began including the section on diagnoses of non-residents in its daily report after three subcontractors working on the Apodaca Science Building construction project at Western Carolina University — none of whom were county residents — tested positive for the disease. However, the category itself is not an indication of how many workers on the site tested positive.

“Many from the construction site were not from Jackson County and did not get tested for COVID-19 in Jackson County,” said Deputy Health Director Melissa McKnight. “They went to their place of residence — whether that is out-of-county or out-of-state — to be tested.  At this time, I don’t have a way to track those individuals.”

 

WCU Commencement Events Remain On Hold

The Sylva Herald

Due to COVID-19 impacts, Western Carolina University has delayed a decision on when to reschedule spring commencement ceremonies originally set for May 8 and 9.

University officials had announced on March 20 the postponement of May commencement exercises, with the hopes of being able to set a new date by Friday, April 3.

The university has been forced to delay that decision, WCU Chancellor Kelli Brown said.

“To students and their families, we want you to know that we are absolutely committed to hosting in-person commencement ceremonies so that we can celebrate this important milestone together,” Brown said. “We fully understand that you are anxious to know when we will hold these on-campus events, but the fluid nature of this global health crisis means that we simply are not in a position to make a decision today with any degree of certainty.”

Brown and other campus leaders are looking at tentative dates for rescheduled spring semester commencement exercises in early August or mid-December.

“We will set a firm date for the rescheduled spring commencement ceremonies in the weeks ahead, and will do so in consultation with public health officials, the University of North Carolina System and state leaders,” she said. “For those of you on track to graduate at the end of this semester, I am looking forward to the time when this pandemic has passed and I can acknowledge you as you walk across that stage at commencement.”

Students who complete all academic requirements for graduation at the end of the spring semester will be awarded their degrees and will be able to request official transcripts after all degrees have been certified by the WCU registrar.

D.A. Welch Promises The Wheels Of Justice Will Keep Turning – April 22

The Sylva Herald

District Attorney Ashley Welch said last week the judicial system remains open for business with measures in place to counter the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our office is working with others in the court system, including judges, clerks of court, defense attorneys and local law enforcement, to strike a balance between the needs of public health and public safety, while providing constitutional due-process rights as guaranteed under the Constitution,” said Welch, who oversees the 43rd Prosecutorial District, made up of the state’s seven westernmost counties.

Law enforcement officers continue to arrest offenders, including domestic violence suspects, people who drive while impaired and others who commit criminal misdeeds. The District Attorney’s Office continues to process these cases.

Welch emphasized anyone who violates Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order or who ignores locally enacted ordinances could face criminal charges.

“If law enforcement takes action, my office will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” she said. “People need to understand these regulations are in place for the good of all, to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Earlier this month, N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued a set of emergency directives. 

Her orders to the judicial system included postponing most cases in Superior and District courts. 

She also instructed local officials to limit the risk of coronavirus exposure in courthouses.

Welch said members of the District Attorney’s Office are deemed essential employees. To limit the potential for coronavirus exposure, administrative staff members are working different shifts districtwide. This both provides protection and allows all seven county offices to stay open, with a staff member in each office available during business hours.

Otherwise, to the extent possible, she and her 31-member staff are working remotely from their homes.

Welch also said:

• Though still operational, the District Attorney’s Office is closed to members of the public.

• Don’t worry about speeding tickets or other citations if you have a court date. These infractions are being continued to future dates. If you have an attorney, contact them. If you want to know the continued date, then call the Clerk of Court’s office in your county.

• Victims of crimes who have questions about open cases can call the District Attorney’s office in their respective county and leave a message. These messages will be returned as promptly as possible.

www.nccourts.gov/services is available for handling some court business, including citation services, paying your ticket, court payments, signing up for court-date notifications and reminders and eFiling court documents for certain courts and case types.

Law Enforcement Officers Laud Cooperation Of Citizens In Crisis – April 22

By Dave Russell, The Sylva Herald

Local law enforcement isn’t immune from the impact of COVID-19, taking a lead role in enforcing the rules and regulations.

“It’s a very difficult and challenging time that we’re in right now,” Jackson County Chief Deputy Kim Hooper said. “We have answered some calls from citizens about numerous places where more than 10 people have gathered, or they have some concerns seeing out-of-state license and we have spoken to those people.”

Deputies informed them of the rules the state and local authorities have laid out, he said.

Newcomers to the county are asked to quarantine for 14 days before moving about the county.

“We have received nothing but 100 percent cooperation from the public,” he said. 

The Sheriff’s Office is still fighting crime.

“The department is not shut down,” Hooper said. “If we have to make arrests, we will make arrests.”

The majority of the calls coming in right now are people concerned about out-of-state license plates, he said. 

The department has not had to bust up any parties or talk to any churches about gathering.

“The majority of the churches are following the guidelines that have been set out,” he said. 

The department has conducted one traffic checkpoint.

“What we did last Friday was community outreach, a safety check on N.C. 107 near Lyle Wilson Road,” he said. “That was just a friendly reminder of the recommendations set out by the Department of Public Health, the state and local authorities – stay home, stay safe.”

Deputies at the checkpoint did not check licenses or look inside cars, he said.

Hooper and his colleagues want everyone to be safe, he said.

“Like everybody is saying, from the president on down to local, take advice from these guidelines set out – stay home and stay safe,” he said. “We want to spread the word and encourage people to make an adjustment to their lifestyle until we get this pandemic behind us.”

Sylva Police Chief Chris Hatton is very pleased with the response from the community, also citing 100 percent cooperation. 

“We’ve had some people call in on some situations that we’ve had to go straighten things out, but not as much as the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “We were really busy when they came out with the first wave of what needs to be closed, where you can eat, like outdoor dining or not. Everybody we have talked to who was not doing the right thing, after we talked to them, they were like, ‘OK, I misunderstood.’”

Airport Receives CARES Boost To Offset Covid-19 Losses – April 22

By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

When COVID-19’s impact on airports comes up in conversation, it’s not likely that Jackson County Airport springs to mind, but it has nonetheless been affected.

In late March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act which included $10 billion in relief to aid airports harmed by the pandemic.

North Carolina’s 72 public airports received $284 million in federal aid. 

Jackson County, one of the state’s 62 general aviation airports, received $20,000 of that money.

“The CARES Act allocated money for airports across the nation, every airport,” said Jim Rowell, Jackson County Airport manager. “The Federal Aviation Administration allocated it based on how big the airport is, how much traffic it sees, payroll and the number of employees according to their scale.”

Asheville Regional Airport received more than $14 million, Macon County Airport and Western Carolina Regional Airport in Andrews both were awarded $30,000.

Jackson’s airport does not have paid employees, but it still has operating costs that would have been covered by revenue lost due the pandemic.

The CARES Act funds will be used to cover utilities and other expenses.

“Everything that goes on from an operations standpoint is still going on,” Rowell said. “My recommendation is that the funds be used for utilities, maintenance of equipment such as runway lighting, related safety devices.”

The airport does not offer commercial flights but can accommodate small planes and helicopters that land there.

Owners landing aircraft at Jackson often pay overnight tie down fees or buy fuel.

The opportunity to land there brings revenue into the county from second homeowners in Jackson County and people vacationing or conducting business in the area.

The facility is estimated to bring $1.3 million in revenue to the county.

Rowell gave an example of how airport business has been impacted.

Last week he received a call from a man who wanted to fly into Jackson County and pick up a machine part in Haywood County.

Rowell informed the man he would have to provide his own transportation, could not rent a room if he planned to stay overnight and would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days if he planned to stay.

The man was unaware of the restrictions and decided not to fly to Jackson.

The airport is owned by the county, operated by the Jackson County Airport Authority and funded with local, state and federal dollars.

Amid COVID-19 Crisis, HERE Continues to Fill Housing Needs – April 22

By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

While most of the world hunkers down to curb the spread of coronavirus, aid agencies like HERE in Jackson County continue to provide crucial services.

Since its work began last year, HERE has placed 69 people in permanent housing. That number includes 16 families and 17 individuals.

The organization currently has dozens of people in emergency shelter.

“The majority of our shelter clients are single adults, so total individuals including those in eight families is 33,” said Bob Cochran director of HERE.

HERE contracts with local hotels to get people into emergency accommodations.

The process of getting people into permanent housing can take as little as weeks or much longer.

“Many of our clients have struggled with homelessness for years and even as children when their parents could not provide a safe, stable home for them,” Cochran said. “We use a housing first model. Evidence shows that mental health treatment, vocational training, child welfare intervention and other social investments have a much greater return when individuals have safe, secure and permanent housing from which to operate.”

HERE works with a range of people. Some clients are people with chronic health conditions who were living on Social Security Disability but lost their home. A person without a permanent address is disqualified from receiving benefits. Helping that person could be as simple as finding an apartment and getting their disability benefit reestablished.

Others need more help.

“There’s a big difference between a family with income needing assistance getting into permanent housing versus somebody with no income, ID, birth certificate or Social Security card,” Cochran said.

For individuals in the latter group, the process can take several months. Many of HERE’s clients are able to move forward and maintain housing and a stable environment for themselves or their families. Others cannot and find themselves homeless again.

The organization is working on strategies to improve those outcomes. Cochran believes all the effort is worth it in the long run.

“Children growing up in stable households are more likely to do better in school and become productive members of society as adults,” he said.

To be eligible for subsidies like Section 8 housing, a person must have credentials like ID and a birth certificate.

Cochran is currently assisting a client who was born in another country but is a naturalized citizen. He cannot obtain a copy of the client’s birth certificate from the birth country or locate adoption paperwork.

“So many people are here from other states,” he said. “This year I’ve sent off to Illinois, Georgia and Florida for birth certificates.”

Landlords require prospective tenants to have income. Some need guidance finding work. There are subsidies available to help with rent, but those stipends are based on income. The subsidies are designed to ensure that the person does not pay more than 30 percent of income on rent and utilities.

The cost to help clients varies. On average HERE pays for about six weeks of emergency shelter. The agency also helps clients cover the cost of moving into long-term housing.

“If we estimate one person or one family needing cold weather shelter for six weeks before entering permanent housing, that cost would be $2,730,” Cochran said. “First month’s rent and deposits for a two bedroom house or apartment would be approximately $1,586.

That includes $693 for rent, $693 for a deposit and $200 for utility deposits, if needed, he said.

The organization partners with The Community Table to feed shelter clients, but pays for meals on Wednesday when the pantry is closed. They are also exploring ways to provide meals on the weekend for shelter clients without income.

Clients can receive transportation to and from appointments and help purchasing prescriptions.

Sometimes caseworkers run into problems due to the availability of housing, high level of competition for available units, and finding landlords willing to rent to the recently homeless or someone with poor credit.

“Usually it’s hard for our clients to find apartments,” Cochran said. “You or I would just hop in our cars and go look at it. A lot of times they’re trying to do everything over the phone, and they don’t make a good first impression. The landlord knows its limited means and senses there are challenges from the very beginning. They’ve got so many barriers, and when they’re competing against other prospective tenants, they don’t always come across well. They’re not always the strongest applicant.”

Sylva is Bracing for a Dent in Finances – April 22

By Dave Russell, The Sylva Herald

Sylva’s budget is not immune to the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the world. The resulting closure of all but essential businesses is putting a deep dent in the town’s financial future.

“It’s going to reduce sales tax, it’s going to reduce vehicle tax and occupancy taxes,” Sylva town Manager Paige Dowling said. “The revenue that comes in between early March and June is going to be significantly impacted. Looking at the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, we are estimating a decrease of about 20 percent in sales tax.”

The town is looking at appropriating about $190,000 from its fund balance, or rainy day fund, she said. 

The town’s fund balance right now is 80.86 percent of total budget.

“The state’s goal for towns our size is 81 percent,” Dowling said. “If we adopt this balanced budget and with that appropriation of $190,000, the estimated fund balance will be 74.21 percent.”

The 2019-20 budget appropriated $50,000 from the fund balance.

“We’ll also take $91,500 from capital reserves,” she said. “That is the fund set aside for capital purchases, such as equipment. We’re still planning on purchasing two police cars. That’s to keep up with our vehicle replacement schedule, because when we push it out, the years that we have to replace three cars instead of one or two, it’s so difficult on our budget.”

The town board received the balanced draft budget Tuesday evening, with an April 30 budget work session (online via Zoom) slated to review it. Another budget work session is scheduled for May 14.

At a Jan. 23 budget session, town leaders listened to department heads’ pitches and justifications for their requests, and board members threw their own wish lists out for consideration.

“Nothing is definite yet,” Dowling said. “Almost all the wants and needs are not going to be funded, just because this is such an uncertain budget and we do not have the revenue to fund the requests.”

Some items that town leaders talked about that might not see funding include: 

• one or two more police officers.

• additional funding for the Blackrock Creek tract.

• an all-terrain vehicle.

Items still in the draft budget include:

• two police patrol vehicles.

• video surveillance cameras for the Department of Public Works parking area.

• a part-time Main Street manager, though that job is now a contract position instead of a part-time employee.

• a Bridge Park improvement plan, with money coming from the town’s Fisher Creek fund.

• a comprehensive land use plan and zoning ordinance update, required by the state.

“The things that remain in the budget are mainly things that we can pay from other sources, like Fisher Creek or capital reserves,” Dowling said. “Our expenditures have not had an increase, just that we’re projecting a significant revenue loss.”

Jackson County Budget is Feeling COVID-19 – April 22

By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

Jackson County Finance Director Darlene Fox said the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the county’s ability to put together a budget, but it may impact the final outcome.

All departments and organizations have submitted their projected budgets and made financial requests despite having to adapt to new methods of operation due to the pandemic.

“A few were delayed but in by the time I needed to process for budget reports,” Fox said. “I have extended the deadline for a few nonprofits to have their applications submitted.”

Despite the delays, preparation of the budget is on schedule and department meetings began this week.

The Board of Commissioners will have a first look at the budget, including requests and projects on May 12. The completed budget should be submitted to the board by June 1.

The state has made provisions for counties to pass interim budgets if needed, but Fox believes Jackson’s budget will be ready by the June 30 deadline.

Fox and County Manager Don Adams, who is working part time while recovering from a health issue, consider a number of components when creating the budget.

“We look at the requests from our departments and agencies, look at revenues over the past several years, and any current situations that may have an impact on the revenues,” Fox said.

They also consider appeals for department or agency funding based on how that entity impacts the county and its residents along with whether there is money in the budget to fund the program, budget increase or request for financial support.

When making those decisions this year, the county will need to consider the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on the county’s coffers.

“I expect to see a decline in sales tax revenue and fees,” Fox said. “Some items may have to be delayed until we see the total impact.”

She also expects to see reductions in the amount of certain fees coming in.

Property taxes may also be impacted in the next year. 

“The current year property tax revenue is at 99.05 percent of the budgeted amount; at this point, I think the property tax revenue will be fine,” she said. “The bills will go out in August and won’t be considered past due until the first of January.”

When deciding what to fund, decision-makers would likely cancel capital projects or decline to fund new programs. Some may only need to be delayed a few months until the full impact of the pandemic is known.

Jackson County is fortunate that there is money in the fund balance to offset some of the losses, Fox said.

Southwestern Community College to Host Virtual Job Fair – April 17

Written by  Cory Vaillancourt, Smoky Mountain News

Southwestern Community College Director of Career Services Michael Despeaux has been holding bricks-and-mortar job fairs for almost 20 years, but on Friday, April 24, he’ll hold his very first “virtual job fair” to connect employers and job seekers online.

“As of now, I’ve sent out invitations to the virtual job fair to well over 7,000 employers and 400 who regularly or actively recruit through SCC,” Despeaux said on April 10.

Thus far, he’s had close to a dozen employers respond, not only from Jackson County but also regional businesses and non-local businesses that have a local footprint. Those include well-known names like Drake Software, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and Terminix pest control services.

Despeaux said he’s been targeting essential businesses that are in a position to hire, but he’s also targeting businesses that will need employees quickly once business returns to normal in the coming weeks or months.

Many of those employers rely on students from Western Carolina University, but since large numbers of WCU students are from major metropolitan areas like Charlotte and Atlanta, they’re no longer here, looking for part-time or summer jobs like they normally would be.

“Our local labor force will be more critical than ever,” Despeaux said.

The virtual job fair will give employers an opportunity to make presentations on available jobs and how to apply for them, and may become a weekly event, according to Despeaux.

Applicants should visit www.southwesterncc.edu/job-board to register for the virtual job fair.

Employers looking to participate should contact Michael Despeaux, Southwestern Community College director of career services by emailing m_despeaux@southwesterncc.edu.

WCU Literary Festival author talks move online

Admin., Smoky Mountain News

While Western Carolina University had to cancel the 18th annual Spring Literary Festival, WCU is happy to announce that listeners can soon find exclusive virtual content from some festival authors at www.litfestival.organd social media.

First up, a live conversation with New York Times bestselling author Jeff VanderMeer at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 21. Dr. Laura Wright, professor of English at WCU, will speak with Jeff about the natural and unnatural worlds in his fiction and how art can take on environmental issues. Viewers will also have a chance to write in with questions. You can find the live steam at litfestival.org. This event is sponsored by WCU’s 2019-20 campus theme: Sustainability and the Environment.

Then, throughout the rest of the week, you’ll also find videos — readings, interviews, tours around writing spaces — from Doug Bock ClarkNickole BrownJessica JacobsCassandra KircherKevin BoyleCatherine Carter, and Wesley Browne.

Appalachian Trail Groups Request Trail Closure

Admin., Smoky Mountain News

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has requested that the federal government officially close the 2,193-mile Appalachian National Scenic Trail in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the 31 official A.T. Maintaining Clubs, 29 — including the Carolina Mountain Club and Nantahala Hiking Club — joined the ATC in its request.

The formal letter asks that the trail be closed immediately through April 30, with managers then convening intermittently to decide whether the trail is safe to open again.

“We are alarmed at the incredible increase in usage at many of the ANST’s most popular sites and believe that uniformity in access (i.e. none) is the only way to provide the proper safety for our gateway communities, trail users and federal employees,” the letter reads. “It is now clear to us that the lack of uniformity across our connected units is causing confusion and preventing appropriate social distancing in addition to continuing to allow for the potential contamination of physical structures such as privies and shelters with no Service, Conservancy, or Club staff or volunteers available to keep them sanitized.”

The unprecedented request for closure comes on the heels of a surge in visitor use despite multiple social-distancing orders issued by state and local governments. The Trail, which spans 14 states and passes through 88 counties, is within a day’s drive for half of the U.S. population. Crowding at iconic and well-known A.T. locations became unsafe, as many believed they could avoid COVID-19 by journeying to public lands.

Prior to the request for closure, the ATC asked all staff, volunteers and visitors to voluntarily stay off the trail, and the National Park Service office closed all the shelters and privies it manages. The A.T. passes through several NPS units and national forests that have closed completely or otherwise removed A.T. access prior to sending of the letter.

www.appalachiantrail.org/covid-19.

“Greening up the Mountains” Spring 2020 Virtual 5K – April 14

Jackson County Parks & Rec

Are you discouraged by having your favorite events canceled? Well so are we! As you know, we annually host The Greening Up The Mountains Festival 5k Race. Unfortunately with the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival has been canceled.

But you are in luck! We are hosting the 5k with a twist. It will be a virtual race!

The Spring 2020 Virtual 5k is open for registration‼?

Click on the link below for details. Remember…this can be done ANYWHERE! Greenway, road, trail, treadmill, run, walk, take your dog, push a stroller. ANYWHERE! Just remember to practice social distancing protocol!

You’ll have 48 hours (9am 4/24-9am 4/26) to post your results. All of those who register and post results will get a SWEET commemorative t-shirt for this virtual event. HannaCole’s is working on our design.

Local folks, we will set up a no-contact, easy pick up for your shirts. Out of town folks, we will mail your’s to you.

To sign up go to: Greening up the Mountains Run Sign up

(Yes, it says Greening Up the Mountains….but it’s not. Just click on it. ??)

Please email Jenifer Pressley at jeniferpressley@jacksonnc.org should you have any questions.

Jackson residents test positive for coronavirus – April 14

Holly Kays, Smoky Mountain News

Two full-time Jackson County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the Jackson County Department of Public Health learned today.

The residents have been in isolation, and the JCDPH will continue to monitor them throughout the duration of their isolation. The department is working to identify close contacts of these positive case and to determine how the individuals contracted the virus.

“We are in the beginnings of our communicable disease investigation,” said Melissa McKnight, deputy health director. “We are still gathering information on their close contacts and travel history to see if their exposure is due to those circumstances or if we have confirmation of community spread in Jackson County.  We do know that these are separate individual cases that are full time residents of Jackson County.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a close contact as being within approximately 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 infection for 10 minutes or longer. Based on information provided by the residents, staff will reach out to close contacts, assess their risk of exposure and determine if they need to take any additional measures.

“The identification of positive cases in full-time residents does not stop us from our proactive prevention efforts or our willingness to adapt to guidelines set by the state of North Carolina and the federal government,” said a press release announcing the cases. “However, this information stresses the point that everyone should be staying home as much as possible to reduce our chances of exposing ourselves or others to COVID-19.”

These confirmed cases make Jackson the 92nd county to have at least one verified COVID-19 case among its residents, but the virus has been present in the county since before March 23. On that date, a part-time resident of the county tested positive. However, because that person’s primary residence is not in Jackson County, the case was attributed to the person’s home state rather than to North Carolina. A total of two cases have so far been confirmed in part-time residents.

Case counts for both full-time and part-time Jackson County residents are posted at http://health.jacksonnc.org/covid19. A hotline for COVID-19 questions is open daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 828.631.HELP

WCU Commencement Events Remain On Hold – April 8

The Sylva Herald

Due to COVID-19 impacts, Western Carolina University has delayed a decision on when to reschedule spring commencement ceremonies originally set for May 8 and 9.

University officials had announced on March 20 the postponement of May commencement exercises, with the hopes of being able to set a new date by Friday, April 3.

The university has been forced to delay that decision, WCU Chancellor Kelli Brown said.

“To students and their families, we want you to know that we are absolutely committed to hosting in-person commencement ceremonies so that we can celebrate this important milestone together,” Brown said. “We fully understand that you are anxious to know when we will hold these on-campus events, but the fluid nature of this global health crisis means that we simply are not in a position to make a decision today with any degree of certainty.”

Brown and other campus leaders are looking at tentative dates for rescheduled spring semester commencement exercises in early August or mid-December.

“We will set a firm date for the rescheduled spring commencement ceremonies in the weeks ahead, and will do so in consultation with public health officials, the University of North Carolina System and state leaders,” she said. “For those of you on track to graduate at the end of this semester, I am looking forward to the time when this pandemic has passed and I can acknowledge you as you walk across that stage at commencement.”

Students who complete all academic requirements for graduation at the end of the spring semester will be awarded their degrees and will be able to request official transcripts after all degrees have been certified by the WCU registrar.

Recycling in Jackson County during COVID-19 – April 8

The Sylva Herald

The Jackson County Transfer Station and the Staffed Recycling Centers are open at this time. If you have any questions concerning waste disposal call 586-7757. If anything changes concerning waste disposal the department will contact appropriate sources for public information.

Some recycling tips from the department:

• Remember to rinse out any containers you wish to recycle. They don’t have to be dishwasher clean but make sure that the recycling workers won’t be exposed to old food residue or COVID-19. Place them into the container bin at the SRC.

• Mixed paper, envelops, newspaper, paperback books, etc., can be placed in the mixed paper/fiber bins.

• Any paper with plastic or wax coatings should be placed in the trash along with shredded paper.

Measures to keep your family safe:

1) The governor’s mandate requires us to stay at least 6 feet away from other people so it just makes sense to wait until the car in front of yours pulls away from the trash compactor to get out of your own vehicle. At the recycle bins keep your distance; if you have to cough or sneeze, do so into your inner elbow.

2) It might be a good idea to wear gloves. It is not required. You don’t have to wear rubber hospital gloves; just old work gloves will do to place your things into the recycling bins and trash compactor. Once you get back in your car, put the gloves into a plastic grocery bag then use some hand sanitizer. Wash your hands as soon as you can.

3) As you are placing items in the recycling bins, avoid brushing up against the bin itself. Even though they are in the sun you never know what might be lingering there.

4) When you arrive back at your home, think about leaving your shoes outside to avoid tracking unwanted residues inside. Again, this is not required.

5) Wash your hands after entering your home. Do so frequently and stay home as much as possible.

If you have any questions about waste disposal and recycling in Jackson County call 586-7757 or 586-7509. Department personnel will answer any questions.

Churches Get Creative For Easter Services – April 8

By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

Local churches are doing their best to continue to feed the souls of their congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic and still observe Easter in a manner befitting the holiday.

Ochre Hill Baptist Church will hold a special drive-in Easter service at 11 a.m. Sunday.

“This is the peak of our Christian calendar, life and scriptures,” the Rev. Hunter Gosnell said. “The Resurrection is the most important event in all of human history. We must cherish it and celebrate it together.”

Services will be conducted over a public address system. Parishioners will stay in their cars with a parking space between each vehicle.

If there are not many cars, attendees could be allowed out of cars.

“If there is space then feel free; if there is no space then stay put please for the safety of everyone,” Gosnell said. 

The parking lot can accommodate approximately 20 cars with new spacing guidelines. Gosnell is not sure the church will continue the services after Easter.

Sheppard of the Hills Lutheran Church is broadcasting services on its Facebook page and YouTube channel Sundays at 11 a.m.

First Baptist Church has adapted by conducting worship services online.

“We have elected to do Facebook Live rather than prerecorded broadcasts,” Pastor Jeff Mathis said. “Last Sunday’s broadcast was from my front porch.”

Under current conditions, the best way for people to love their neighbor is to practice physical distancing and to find other ways to worship, he said.

Mathis said Sunday’s service will be unlike any observance of Easter he has ever conducted.

To accommodate for the observance of Holy Week, Mathis and pastors from First Presbyterian and First United Methodist Churches have put together a packet of devotionals. The devotionals are being sent out by email and social media all week.

First Baptist is also keeping The Flowering of the Cross tradition alive with a new twist.

Rather than parishioners bringing fresh flowers to the sanctuary on Easter, the church will place the cross on the steps in front of the church Saturday. Church members and any Jackson County resident can bring their flowers to place on the cross.

“What a beautiful way for us to revel in spring and acknowledge that God will redeem this crisis,” Mathis said. “It is a proclamation of faith.”

Mathis asks that people remember physical distancing when they stop by.

On Sunday, First Baptist services will be livestreamed on Facebook at 10:30 a.m.

“It will be done in an intimate way,” he said. “Instead of a massive choir and packed pews, we will lean into the Easter Sunday narrative.”

Mathis sees this Easter observance as crucial because the events of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection mirror what people are feeling.

“The resurrection of Jesus happened in a way that can resonate with us right now,” he said.

There is a feeling of darkness. People are experiencing fear and confusion. They are under quarantine and in some cases unable to be around friends and family members.

For Christ’s followers the crucifixion and resurrection took place under a cloud of “confusion and suspicion” and the Disciples were hiding out in a house.

“It provides us an opportunity to consider what it was like for the women at the tomb and Peter as they tried to figure out what this meant,” Mathis said.

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