With social distancing and stay-at-home orders continuing to occur across the country, people are coming together to help one another during the COVID-19 pandemic. Community-based organizations (CBO) across the United States are critical lifelines in the fight against the novel coronavirus and are stepping in with innovative ways to help those in their communities who are disproportionately affected by disasters. Food pantries have been particularly essential as many people find themselves experiencing food insecurity due to loss of income as a result of the pandemic. At the same time, social distancing is changing everything from how children go to school to how houses of worship conduct services.
FEMA’s Individual and Community Preparedness Division (ICPD) develops programs that support CBOs’ resiliency in the face of disasters. By providing tools, resources, and trainings for CBOs, ICPD helps to ensure that these organizations, which are the hearts of communities throughout the Nation, are prepared for emergencies. Throughout turbulent times in our country’s history, the adage of “neighbor helping neighbor” has always rung true. This time is no different. Below, you’ll find just a few examples of how CBOs across the country are helping those in need due to COVID-19.
Feeding Families — and Animals, Too
Ensuring people don’t go hungry during the pandemic is the mission of several CBOs. In hard-hit New York City, the Michelin-starred restaurant Eleven Madison Avenue has partnered with the nonprofit Rethink Food to use its kitchen to cook food for the needy. Rethink Food is giving $40,000 to up to 30 additional restaurants across the city to re-open as food distribution centers. Restaurants are using their existing food supplies and then will be given donated food to continue offering free take-out meals to those in need.
Similarly, the Great Harvest Bread Company in Warrenton, VA, is baking bread for the D.C.-based Fauquier Food Bank, whose shelves were nearly empty. After an anonymous donor gave the bakery $700 to bake bread for the food bank, donations have come pouring in from the community to help keep workers employed and to provide additional bread for the food bank. “That’s what gets us through and that’s what makes us a community,” said the food bank’s Sharon Ames, on NBC4 News in Washington, D.C., noting that she burst into tears when she heard about the first donation.
Parents in North Carolina can text “FOODNC” and receive a response with the three drive-through or pick-up sites closest to them. This service, which allows parents to pick up meals for kids, is provided by the nonprofit No Kid Hungry. Texts are also available in Spanish, and the group’s website includes a map with meal locations.
In Missouri, FosterAdopt Connect has turned its food pantry into a delivery service, bringing a week’s worth of food to the homes of foster and adoptive families.
Animals need to eat, too, and after the Orchard Country Store in Mooresville, IN, closed its doors to walk-in customers when the governor issued a stay at home order, it opened a drive-through service to feed area farm animals, as well as pets. Customers order online, stay in their cars or trucks, and workers load the food. “[We’re] trying to do everything we can to provide animals with the feed they need and keep everybody safe at the same time," co-owner Tony Langley told RTV6 in Indianapolis.
Nonprofits Help with Numerous Needs
With so many needs, nonprofits are stretched thin. The Texas Mutual workers’ compensation insurance company is helping bridge the funding gap by providing $1.35 million to 40 nonprofit organizations in Texas. These include Meals on Wheels, United Way, local food banks, and community health organizations that are on the front lines of the COVID-19 efforts.
“As a state, we’re blessed to have so many nonprofits doing difficult and necessary work to care for our communities. Partnering with them to take care of Texans is an honor,” said Rich Gergasko, president and CEO of Texas Mutual. “This donation will help them retain staff, provide resources, and save the lives of Texans during a time when [staff and resources] are needed most."
Some community organizations focus on specific populations. In San Diego County, CA, for example, Del Mar Community Connections serves older adults. The organization is providing grocery delivery and transportation to medical appointments. It has also introduced area seniors to Zoom, hosting a video conference sing-along, complete with a volunteer accompanying on piano.
Domestic violence is on the rise as some are forced to shelter in place with their abusers. Michelle Sperzel, CEO of the nonprofit shelter Harbor House of Central Florida, is speaking out through the media to alert victims that it and its crisis hotline are still open during the pandemic.
Coping with COVID-19 is difficult for everyone, but for those who don’t speak English, even getting access to ever-changing information is hard. The Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition is translating material into 15 languages.
Stress and anxiety about coronavirus can ratchet up mental health needs. The nonprofit group Mental Health America of Montana extended the hours of its “warmline” to help provide emotional support and early intervention. Volunteers now answer
Faith-Based Organizations Go Virtual
Religious services are continuing online as faith-based organizations look for ways to connect their congregations. The NorthJersey.com website lists when houses of worship are conducting virtual services. The Church of St. Anastasia in Teaneck, NJ, draws 1,000 worshipers for its livestream Mass each Sunday. And while the El-Zahra Islamic Center in Midland Park, NJ, has canceled services, congregants use WhatsApp to pray and share ideas.
In a virtual service via Facebook, the rabbi of Temple Sinai of Bergen County in New Jersey told his congregation, "Let's not panic. Let's follow the rules we have been given by the CDC, local authorities, and others. And we will find a way out of this desert together."
Many CBOs are seeking volunteers and donations to help keep their staffs employed and provide services. “Everywhere in America charitable organizations are already in place serving the needs of residents. Every dollar granted, donated, or earned goes back into the community immediately to address clear and present problems. Charities are our economy’s shock absorber for coronavirus when crisis hits,” concluded a recent statement from the Council of Nonprofits signed by more than 200 organizations.
To learn more about ways you can assist nonprofits and other community organizations through donations and volunteering, see FEMA’s How to Help page. Additionally, FEMA published a collection of best practices drawn from successful interventions and the experiences of communities facing COVID-19 challenges. We’d love to hear more about what your organization is doing to support your community through these challenging times. If you’d like to share your story, please email us at FEMA-Prepare@fema.dhs.gov.
This article first appeared in the monthly Individual and Community Preparedness Newsletter. Subscribe here.