Roanoke Valley nonprofits have stepped up their efforts to give food, shelter and services to the most vulnerable members of the population in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Some are in financially precarious positions themselves as they’ve had to shut down stores and move classes and activities online.
They’re operating with fewer volunteers and even smaller staffs for those that have resorted to layoffs and furloughs to stay viable. To continue their missions, they’re in need of donations: cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, nonperishable food items and money.
United Way of Roanoke Valley has been hosting weekly conference calls with more than 100 participants, including nonprofit leaders and local government officials. “People share what they’re doing, which can then be a resource to another agency,” said President and CEO Abby Hamilton. “Our work is really focused on making sure that we have a good understanding of what partners are needing, what they’re struggling with and how do we clear the decks, so to speak, for them to be able to do what they need to do.
“One of the important aspects of that is making sure that the public, people needing help and needing information, know where to go. That entire community of nonprofits that we’re working with” posts updates in a Google document, “so that we can share it with [telephone community service program] 2-1-1, where we’re directing people who are needing help,” she said.
“It’s been really heartening to watch the human service organizations in the community pull together and try to meet the needs,” said Joy Parrish, executive director of West End Center for Youth in Roanoke.
Government and nonprofit agencies in Franklin County such as Faith Network and Tri-Area Community Health Center have similarly pooled resources and services via conference call. “We are pulling together to present a united front for our citizens,” said STEP executive director Marc Crouse in a statement released Thursday.
Organizations are also battening down for what could be months of dwindling contributions and resources as panicked shoppers hoard supplies and the state’s shelter-in-place decree remains in effect.
“It’s more a marathon then a sprint,” said Lee Clark, chief executive officer of Roanoke Rescue Mission. “We’ve been planning for this and now we’re moving into those plans and figuring out our next step.”
Goodwill Industries of the Valleys has closed its thrift stores, which supply 70% of the nonprofit’s revenue, said Kelly Sandridge, external affairs vice president. “We’re learning how we can serve people virtually and still keep our staff as whole as possible.”
Goodwill continues to offer shopping — and its core programming, job training and career coaching, online. Goodwill has also been collecting donations of personal protective equipment and delivering them to Carilion Clinic.
“We were really worried about not being able to a resource to them,” Sandridge said. “We were ecstatic to learn that our donation centers could stay open, not only for the PPE donations, but for our donations.”
The Roanoke Rescue Mission continues to provide shelter to the homeless, with pillows on adjacent beds alternating from placement at the head to placement at the foot to help with social distancing during sleep, Clark said.
The mission had reduced the number of entrances and scans the temperatures of everyone who comes in. It also continues to host meals, with social distancing enforced — for example, seating three to a table instead of eight. Other organizations dedicated to providing meals have similarly adjusted their methods.
Samaritan Inn on Salem Avenue in Roanoke has closed its thrift store and day shelter, but continues to serve walk-by breakfast and lunch through the front door during designated hours. “No one comes in the building,” said administrator Georgia Barnett. “Kroger and Food Lion are continuing to give us donated food.”
“Most of our clients can’t get out to the store,” said Ron Boyd, president and CEO of Local Office on Aging, which operates a Meals on Wheels program. “We’ve been putting out emergency food bags at an exponential rate,” with employees having to pull double duty on tasks usually handled by volunteers. Those making deliveries walk up to the front door with masks and gloves on, hang the meal in a bag on the door and step back after knocking.
LOA is engaged in a constant search for new supplies of food and PPE, Boyd said. “We just got hand sanitizer for the first time this week.”
Starting Monday forward, LOA will stop delivery on Fridays and instead deliver an extra shelf-ready meal Thursday. Employees also leave earlier, in part to trim costs, but also so they can shop for their own households earlier in the day, Boyd said. “They were having a hard time getting to the grocery story to get what they need.”
Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Virginia also has begun distributing meals, a step outside of the agency’s usual services. With the club’s after school and before school programs shut down, Boys and Girls Club is providing food pickup Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m. at its offices on Ninth Street Southwest and at Shawsville Middle School in Montgomery County. On Mondays the club is also providing “club-to-go kits” full of crafts and extracurricular activities, with versions tailored for elementary, middle and high school age children, said CEO Michelle Davis.
The club is handing out about 250 meals a week, and soon will be giving out boxes of food supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that are meant to feed whole families.
Continuing with the club’s regular programming for children involves virtual solutions. “We are offering online courses right now and we’re also trying to foster online relationships with our students,” Davis said. “We’re going to be using Zoom meetings in order to create after school opportunities with our kids really just to hang out with each other again.”
The club also plans to use Zoom to continue mentoring programs and tutoring.
The pivot toward these types of emergency efforts poses a revenue problem for the club. “Most of our funding is tied to our direct services to students,” with many federal grants requiring face-to-face interaction. “We are in a pretty severe situation as far as funding is concerned.”
Tuesday, the club furloughed 23 out of 60 employees, with those that remain working reduced hours. “It’s awful,” Davis said. “I personally called all of the people that we furloughed.”
The United Way of Roanoke Valley has launched the COVID-19 Community Response Fund to support nonprofits involved in the response to the pandemic. Friday evening, the campaign had raised more than $56,000 toward an initial $200,000 goal. Organizations can apply for grants from the fund.
Many individual nonprofits have been able to do little more than send new letters to regular supporters outlining their needs in a time that’s straining their shrinking resources.
The West End Center faces a precarious financial situation, Parrish said, with their signature Spring Bling fundraiser in May canceled. “We’ve got no extra. There is no fat in our budget.”
Though three part-time positions were eliminated, the center’s six full-time employees are still at work. Like the Boys and Girls Club, West End Center is offering classes and activities for the 100 children they benefit through venues such as Facebook Live, and they are distributing USDA meals.
“We don’t want to reduce the number of children we serve,” Parrish said.
The COVID-19 Community Response Fund can be found at www.uwrv.org/covid-19-give