North Fulton Community Charities typically had about 400 volunteers on a regular basis prior to COVID-19. (Courtesy North Fulton Community Charities)
Not even 90 days after Holly York started her role as executive director of North Fulton Community Charities
, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the North Fulton area, shutting down businesses, canceling events, and sparking layoffs and furloughs—and therefore relying more on nonprofit organizations such as NFCC for financial and nutritional help, she said. York took the role in January, and by mid-March, the pandemic took priority.
The Roswell-based nonprofit—a community staple since 1983 that services about 4,500-5,000 families in all areas of Fulton County north of the Chattahoochee River, including Alpharetta and Milton—temporarily suspended most programs and volunteer shifts in March to reduce the number of people in buildings and focus on emergency services: financial assistance and food. About 12 employees have been doing the work of the roughly 200 weekly volunteers that NFCC typically sees, York said, just to run the nonprofit's food pantry—the only food resource for groceries in the northern portion of Fulton County, according to York.
Those needing nutritional assistance can fill out an online grocery form and schedule a time to pick up their order without needing to get out of their vehicle. Food donations, while temporarily suspended, can now be dropped off after 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
NFCC also operates a thrift store, which York said is the nonprofit's main source of income. Due to COVID-19, York had to close the store for the time being, resulting in a loss of more than $200,000 so far, she said. However, York said staffers have used this time to do maintenance work in the store that they had not previously had an opportunity to get done.
"We had to get back to our very core needs, which is food and financial assistance. With our revenue loss and the temporary loss of our volunteers, who are over 60 years old on average and therefore in the at-risk population for COVID-19, we had to scale back our programming," she said.
One of NFCC's other services is its education center, which offers free adult basic education and life skill courses, including English, GED test preparation, financial and computer literacy, workforce readiness and other classes with free on-site child care to class participants. York had to close the education center due to COVID-19, but NFCC continues to offer virtual courses.
However, the space NFCC leased for the education center was sold recently, leaving it without a location for in-person courses even if it wanted to resume them, she said, effectively closing the education center.
"Our mission is to build self-sufficiency and prevent hunger and homelessness, but with our education center closed, we can't do that part," she said. "The hardest part of all this is that we will not have an education center, and our expansion plans are on hold, so we have to just address what we need."
Additionally, York said NFCC has seen a 300% increase in the amount of emergency financial assistance, such as rent and utility support, since March. She said one of the largest influxes of people needing NFCC's services during this time have been those working for nonessential businesses and health care workers who provide elective services, which were prohibited until late April. She said even some previous donors suddenly became clients.
"It's the hairdresser; it's the massage therapist; it's the restaurant worker; it's the driving school owner; it's the software consultant that's an independent contractor," York said. "One of our first clients [after government restrictions were enacted] was a mammographer, who said she had a great job, but she'd been furloughed because they couldn't be open and had no way to provide for herself and her child. So it's even the health care workers, which is crazy to say in the middle of a pandemic."
Despite the national crisis, she said it can be hard for people to understand and admit that they need financial help, especially if they have not needed financial or food services before.
"It's hard for people in more affluent communities like Alpharetta and Milton to understand that they'll be needing financial assistance, and people are very reluctant to get help from us, especially first-timers. It can hurt your pride," York said. "But it's all been moved online, and I think that makes it more palatable for people who are considering that they may need help."
North Fulton Community Charities
11270 Elkins Road, Roswell