Facing increased demand and fewer resources, Chandler nonprofits are working to help residents in need during COVID-19

Nonprofits across Chandler saw a rush several weeks back as nervous shoppers emptied grocery store shelves due to swelling concern surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak and as an impending stay-at-home order loomed over the Valley. Local food banks saw dozens more people coming to them for resources than they typically would, and the organizations delivered—handing out groceries that would get individuals and families through a tough time.

"As we’ve seen the changes with COVID-19, [it] has brought increased need in our community," said Trinity Donovan, the CEO of AZCEND, a nonprofit based in Chandler. "We’ve experienced increased need in our food bank and the people who are served through that service. We are seeing between 25% and 50% more people than were coming before. We're seeing new people as well. People who needed the essentials in that first week [of panic] when shelves were being cleared in the supermarket—for those living paycheck-to-paycheck they aren't able to stock up on items or might not have been able to find what they needed, so they came to us."

AZCEND has been a staple in the community for decades, offering food boxes, senior nutrition, family programming and services for those experiencing homelessness.

"We are seeing [the coronavirus outbreak] from two standpoints: one of people who have less resources to begin with, and then an increase of people who need the services as they experience job loss or furlough," Donovan said.

Facing a higher need with limited resources

As local nonprofits help more people on a daily basis, they are faced with fewer volunteers and fewer dollars—some local nonprofits are missing out on their largest fundraisers of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have had to cancel our second largest fundraiser of the year–that happens the first week of April," Donovan said. "We moved it to a virtual walk through the month of April. We are wondering since we aren't able to have it in person what that will do to our donations."

Those donations, Donovan said, support AZCEND's various programs including its child and family program, a program for those experiencing homelessness, the food bank and its community action program that assists people in Chandler and Gilbert with rent and utilities.

About Care, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting homebound seniors and supporting independent living, is also missing out on its biggest fundraising opportunity of the year, said CEO Ann Marie McArthur.

"We are kind of financially hurting," McArthur said. "That fundraiser brings in one-third of our budget. We are going to have to skip it this year and do it next year. We are looking for emergency funding."

The organization, however, has seen one upside: more volunteers.

About Care has nearly 20 new volunteers making phone calls to check in on the people the nonprofit serves, dropping off food and making sure those who are not leaving their house are still fostering connection with someone.

"It's so amazing that the whole community wants to come together," McArthur said. "We are having those volunteers call all our clients and ask if they need anything. They are very isolated, especially since they can’t go out now. Typically our clients do have underlying health concerns to begin with, so we are trying to see how we can help. One new volunteer is only 18 and said she has 20 new friends from the people she's been calling to check on."

Adapting food banks to fill the need

At Matthew's Crossing Food Bank in Chandler, the nonprofit organization had to adapt quickly when social distancing guidelines were issued. In just a matter of days and with only a handful of available volunteers, the food bank created a drive-up service.

"Food banks are considered first responders. We keep delivering hunger relief to those who need it," said Jan Terhune, the executive director of Matthew's Crossing Food Bank.

But, Terhune said, even though it was able to adapt to the situation, the food bank is still facing trouble as it must purchase palettes of food instead of relying on food drives and the donations from grocery stores.

"We’ve been saying to our donors that their cash gifts are more valuable than they have ever been so we can continue to get food in pipeline," Terhune said. "The food pipeline is questionable."

Like AZCEND, Matthew's Crossing has seen an increase in the number of people coming to collect food from the food bank since the coronavirus outbreak began.

"In those first days, we saw nearly double what we typically would’ve seen," Terhune said. "We are not slow by any means, compared to a normal day we are well above average. But we need help to maintain our current operations with no interruptions. We need help to respond to increased demand so we can serve those people who are experiencing losses as a result of these extended closures. Some of these folks in the service industry thought they could hang on for two weeks, not two months. We could be talking two, three or four months. We expect to be able to respond to those folks as well."

How you can help

AZCEND, Matthew's Crossing Food Bank and About Care are all accepting donations.

To donate to AZCEND, visit: https://azcend.org/causes/donate/

To donate to Matthew's Crossing Food Bank, visit: www.matthewscrossing.org

To donate to About Care or to find a volunteer opportunity, visit: www.aboutcare.org