One of the area’s largest nonprofits, Northwest Assistance Ministries, connects individuals with basic needs such as food; clothing; hygiene products; and rent, mortgage, and utility bill assistance, among others. The organization is one of the largest Meals on Wheels providers countywide, serving 24 ZIP codes.
Since the recent coronavirus outbreak, NAM Chief Advancement Officer Brian Carr said the organization has experienced a significant increase in demand for food and other assistance services, and it has taken several steps to promote social distancing at its facility.
“We converted our in-house senior lunch program to home delivery to reduce a large congregation of our most vulnerable population,” Carr said in an email. “We have simplified our intake process to allow for quicker screenings and smaller crowds [and] we adjusted our food pantry process to promote social distance and limit contact with a drive-up service.”
Spring-Woodlands Ministries, a mobile food pantry that has served the community for the past 23 years, has likewise taken steps to protect its most vulnerable clients, which in 2019 included 4,500 seniors who reside in low-income housing. Debbie McCabe, who serves as the president of the organization’s board of directors, said the demand for senior services has escalated, and Spring-Woodlands Ministries has implemented a new protocol to ensure that volunteers have no interaction with the client in hopes of limiting exposure.
“Requirements have been activated for SWM’s ‘Bags of Love’ food distribution to low-income seniors residing in low-income housing,” McCabe said. “SWM volunteers approach a senior’s apartment and place the bag of groceries on the doorstep. The SWM volunteer knocks on the door, identifies themselves and the organization and immediately walks away, [so the volunteer] has no interaction with the senior, however each bag has an encouraging note for them.”
Lending a hand
As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, Hope Center Houston, a day and assistance center that serves the homeless population along the FM 1960 corridor, was forced to close its facility March 14 out of safety concerns for both its volunteers and guests. The center typically provides two hot meals per day and access to showers and clothing as well as counseling, mail and photo ID services.
In the interim, Hope Center Houston Debbie Johnson said the organization would continue to feed its guests by handing out “manna bags” on weekdays from noon-1 p.m. on the front steps of the Hope Center Houston facility.
Helping Others Pursue Excellence Haven, or HOPE Haven, is another nonprofit dedicated to serving Spring and Klein’s homeless population that has had to adapt to the “new normal” amid coronavirus concerns. Executive Director Kristyn Stillwell said one of the biggest adjustments for volunteers is having to refrain from hugging and shaking hands with their clients.
“For the homeless, we have found that many of them are totally unaware of what is going on,” Stillwell said. “So we are educating our clients on the magnitude of the crisis and how best they can protect themselves. [We are] also alerting them of some potential quarantine measures we may be facing so they can be prepared.”
Stillwell added the organization has been bringing out survival food packs that include 60 servings of food in case there is a lockdown in Harris County and homeless clients are unable to access food elsewhere. Volunteers are also required to wear face masks and gloves when handling food to limit exposure.
While each of these nonprofits has adapted differently, they each said their biggest needs at the moment are donations to ensure they can continue providing services.
“Our work still continues, and we are concerned that donations may slow down because people are not able to go to work,” Stillwell said. “So for those who are not financially affected by this catastrophic event, please consider donating so we can keep our team on the front line educating, helping and staying on top of our clients’ well-beings.”