Six Needs We’re Seeing (and Responding To) During COVID-19
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, we are facing complex challenges in our community. Many people who were already vulnerable are even more at risk, and many others need help for the first time.
And the nonprofit organizations that help are under more stress than ever. Since the start of the crisis, our United Way 2-1-1 helpline has seen a nearly 150% increase in calls for help compared to last year.
In times of crisis, we’re committed to standing by our community and offer help where it’s needed most. By supporting a safety net of nonprofits on the front lines of helping people, we’re helping house families, feed people, keep kids safe, and more.
In the past month, we’ve awarded $555,000 in emergency response grants to more than 30 agencies that are housing families, keeping kids safe and more. Here are just a few ways that our support has made a difference in our region.
1. Feeding our community
Accessing healthy food has become a challenge for those who have lost their jobs or wages, families whose kids rely on school lunches, and seniors who can’t risk exposure at grocery stores. 2-1-1 calls for food assistance have surged since mid-March, increasing 160% over last year.
Our support is helping organizations like the St. Louis Area Foodbank move quickly to feed more people in our community by purchasing more essential staples, like canned tuna, peanut butter, and canned vegetables.
The Foodbank has hosted more than 135 pop-up distribution events since March 16, each serving around 300 families. In one week alone, they distributed more than 800,000 pounds of food, including 140,000 meals with our support.
Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis has also been hosting drive-up distributions, each one serving anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 people. With our support, Urban League has stocked up on food and other hard-to-find supplies, like masks, toiletries and cleaning supplies.
Distribution events have been a lifeline for people like Hector*, who is retired and fostering three growing teenage boys. Now that they’re out of school, he was at a loss for how he’d feed all four of them. He relies on these events to supplement what he can buy on his fixed income.
2. Finding safe places to stay
As people deal with job and wage loss, many face the risk of losing their homes. Also, living under the stress of social distance and quarantine, some may also be at higher risk for experiencing domestic violence.
St. Patrick Center’s Women’s Night Program provides women facing crisis with a safe place to stay. Emergency shelter is in high demand right now as more people face job and wage loss and because other local shelters have closed or limited their numbers of beds, said Anthony D’Agostino, St Patrick Center president and CEO.
“A lot of clients are facing the direst situations,” D’Agostino added. “They oftentimes come from traumatic situations. They may be battling mental health issues or substance use issues, and then along with that, struggling to find employment or access to the resources.”
Funding the Women’s Night Program has been critical for the program to continue and put strict sanitation and social distancing efforts in place and even plan to expand to house more women as the crisis continues.
For people facing domestic violence, YWCA is working with their network of landlords to find safe, permanent housing. Our emergency funding enables caseworkers find temporary placements, like hotel rooms, so survivors of domestic violence can flee quickly and give them the basics like food, clothes, toiletries and more to keep them safe and healthy.
The program has been lifesaving for survivors like Cassie,* who fled from Warren County last week with her infant daughter and just a few things in her diaper bag. Cassie made it to St. Louis County, where her YWCA case manager met her at the hotel with a bassinet and other essentials for her and her daughter. YWCA is close to finding a new apartment for Cassie, but until then, she has a safe place to stay while she waits to begin her new life.
3. Keeping families in their homes
As families stay home, the cost of utilities increases, especially for those doing work and school online. This puts a strain on families who were already struggling to keep up or who have lost their income.
Madison County Urban League has been helping people stay safe in their homes by providing rent, utility and mortage assistance and working with landlords to prevent evictions. With our support, they have been able to serve 50 families with financial assistance to keep them safe and secure in their homes. Many of these households have multiple generations living under one roof, and many have never had to call for help before.
With our 2-1-1 helpline seeing a 33% increase in calls for utility assistance, this funding is critical for families like Robin’s. When Robin lost her job, she didn’t know how she would afford to keep her and her kids in their home. She’s pregnant with her third daughter and has sickle cell anemia, so the stress had become dangerous to her health. The Madison County Urban League’s help has allowed the family to stay in their home, taking a big weight off their shoulders.
4. Supporting essential workers
Many people in our community work at essential jobs, but with kids home from school and many childcare facilities closed, parents need a safe place to send their children so they can continue to work.
Gateway Region YMCA has four emergency childcare centers across the region to care of kids of essential workers. Kids play games, exercise, get help with schoolwork and more, all while practicing social distancing.
“As a single mom with no family members nearby, I would have had to take a leave from my job when schools closed,” said Tracy, whose daughter is in the program. “I lost my second job due to restaurants closing so working at the hospital is my only source of income. Having somewhere to take my child so that I may continue to work was imperative.”
There are more than 120 kids enrolled, and with our help, the program can serve even more, with enough teachers to give personalized attention and supervision. It’s a huge help for parents and kids alike.
5. Promoting physical and mental health
All of us are facing different challenges because of the COVID-19 crisis. The stress that brings can make it difficult to stay physically and mentally well. Since mid-March, 2-1-1 has seen a 73% increase in calls about mental health. 211 has also helped thousands of callers find vital information about COVID-19, from where to get tested to how to socially distance and help their families stay safe.
Immigrants and non-native English speakers are particularly vulnerable. On top of social distancing, they face cultural, language and insurance barriers to receiving healthcare. Quality care is vital, especially for those who are essential workers.
With funding through an emergency response grant from United Way, Casa de Salud is supporting the community by transitioning to telehealth to serve patients, hosting more than 200 appointments in April. The funding has allowed them to expand their staff of professional interpreters so that patients receive comprehensive care and can use their preferred language to communicate accurately and sincerely about their needs.
Casa de Salud’s helped people like Francisco*, who had been coming to therapy at Casa de Salud earlier in the year but couldn’t continue because of transportation challenges. When Casa de Salud transitioned to telehealth, Francisco’s therapist reached out. Francisco responded immediately and resumed his weekly sessions. He confided in his therapist that he was at a low point when he received the call, and this act of compassion helped him turn things around.
We’re also providing direct access to mental health resources through its partnership Behavioral Health Response and St. Louis Mental Health Board. Mental health professionals are available to help 2-1-1 callers manage stress and anxiety, give encouragement, or just offer a listening ear.
“It’s hard for people to ask for help, period,” said Kristin Cowart of St. Louis Mental Health Board. “In our culture, that’s deemed as a weakness, when it’s really a strength. When people can do that, that’s a superpower.”
6. Standing united to help our neighbors – for the long run.
Disaster recovery is a long process, especially when none of us have been through this before. Continuing to support our network of nonprofits and strengthen our community’s safety net is more important than ever.
It will take a network of organizations, community leaders and targeted programs, like our United to Help Our Neighbors program. This program helps families who have lost their income stay in their homes, put food on the table, keep the lights on, find new jobs and prepare for the future. By working with a variety of nonprofits, we’re providing the direct and comprehensive care they need to regain stability and build brighter futures.
Even after the COVID-19 crisis begins to subside, we’ll be here to make sure needs are met and help is available as long as it is needed.
Support our COVID-19 Response or let your friends and family know how they can donate to local efforts. If you or your loved ones need help, dial 2-1-1 or visit 211helps.org to get connected to other local resources.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
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Emily (Becherer) Gearhart is a proud native St. Louisan, writer and lover of stories in all their forms. Faced with a captivating question, she will research her way down a rabbit hole and emerge with words that educate and inspire. You can probably find her taking in a musical, bingeing through a new podcast series, exploring the trails at local parks or curating her extensive library of Spotify playlists.