Nonprofits adapt quickly to cope with health shifts, more need

Nonprofits adapt quickly to cope with health shifts, more need
Social distancing occurs in the City Rescue Mission dining hall, and staff members personally spray sanitizer on each guest’s hands before they begin eating.

While business as usual has come to a halt all over Northeast Florida as residents heed government orders to shelter in place, several nonprofits continue to serve the needs of Jacksonville’s most vulnerable citizens. Feeding Northeast Florida, Sulzbacher, City Rescue Mission, Clara White Mission, Aging True, UCOM and the Salvation Army, all nonprofits that assist the homeless, elderly, unemployed, and those struggling daily with food insecurity, are continuing to do important work on the front lines while the city endeavors to call a halt to the Coronavirus pandemic.

“This virus has really handcuffed several of the nonprofits that provide services to the vulnerable. To make sure the individuals are safe, the nonprofits are now talking at least once a week with the support of the Mayor’s office and the health department, because this is the first time that the community has experienced anything like this. It’s far different from preparing for a hurricane,” said President/CEO JuCoby Pittman of Clara White Mission. “One thing I can say is that nonprofits are really trying to work together to address the needs of the most vulnerable and those who are on the streets.” 

For many nonprofits, the COVID-19 crisis is causing many nonprofits to completely change the way they do business in order to keep their staff, volunteers and clients safe. 

“As we are figuring out our new reality for the next weeks or months, I am awed by the cooperation and collaboration taking place among the organizations that serve our most vulnerable populations,” said King. “I am confident that we will get through this difficult time stronger as a sector and as a community.”

Feeding Northeast Florida

The largest food bank in the region, Feeding Northeast Florida is working to keep its satellite food distribution centers and other food pantries stocked as best as it can in the COVID-19 crisis. Unfortunately, with food and other necessary items flying off supermarket shelves, the amount of food donated by retailers through normal weekly food recovery programs to Feeding Northeast Florida is diminishing.

To solve and near-term shortages, the nonprofit is purchasing food products to make up for any potential shortfall and thereby requests monetary donations to help cover the costs. “While we understand that there is not yet a significant supply chain issue for food manufacturers, we do need to acquire additional products in the short term,” King said. “Contributions are vital in assisting us to fill this gap.” To make a donation, contact Sarah Dobson, director of Relationship Management by email at sdobson@feedlingnefl.org.

Feeding Northeast Florida’s other great need is for volunteers. “We have already seen an 80% to 90% reduction in our number of volunteers due to cancellations and health concerns,” King said, noting a maximum of 30 volunteers are needed per shift between the ages of 16 and 75 years old. All volunteers practice social distancing during their shifts and will be required to satisfactorily answer screening questions relating to foreign travel, exposure to people testing positive for COVID-19, etc., prior to entering the warehouse. 

To better cope with the public health crisis, the nonprofit is also providing its food agencies with “Family Meal Kits,” which contain shelf-stable food items, produce, and meat when available. In compiling the kits, Feeding Northeast Florida is following its “low-touch or no-touch” model of food distribution. It is also urging its agencies and food pantries to shift to a drive-through model of distribution to be consistent with social distancing guidelines.

One bright spot during the crisis came when the PGA Tour donated its excess food supplies from THE PLAYERS Championship to the nonprofit, bringing a silver lining to the cancellation of the prestigious golf tournament. The nonprofit has also been the beneficiary of excess food from Disney World, which was donated by the entertainment company when the parks were shut down in mid-March. “The food is not going to waste,” said King. “It’s going into the community at a time when it’s needed most.”

Sulzbacher

Because Sulzbacher cares for some of Jacksonville’s most vulnerable citizens, it cannot close during the Coronavirus health crisis. While providing emergency services such as housing, healthcare, and meals to homeless citizens, Sulzbacher is endeavoring to keep its staff, residents and patients as safe and healthy as possible. Sulzbacher is implementing crisis protocols including altering its staffing levels, screening all patients who come to its health centers, stringent and frequent cleaning of all locations, and social distancing protocols.

While Sulzbacher is limiting the number of people on both its campuses, all volunteer activities have been cancelled until further notice. Everyone who enters Sulzbacher’s campus will be medically screened, and Sulzbacher’s new health mobile will be stationed at its downtown campus to aid with the screening.

Sulzbacher appreciates the $100,000 emergency response grant it received on behalf of Jan Moran from the Jim Moran Foundation. The grant is intended to provide funding for meals, housing, childcare, and loss of employment and income as an immediate intervention for those affected by the Coronavirus crisis.

Even with the grant, Sulzbacher needs funds to pay for additional staff time and equipment needed to respond to the Coronavirus crisis. Donate online at sulzbacherjax.org, or via mail to Sulzbacher, 611 E. Adams St., Jacksonville, FL 32202. The nonprofit also needs in-kind donations. To make arrangements to donate food, medical supplies such as masks and gloves or hygiene items, call 904-662-2352.

UCOM Urban Serve, Inc.

The United Community Outreach Ministry (UCOM) is continuing to assist everyone who needs help in its service area. “UCOM’s goal is to connect faith organizations and mission partners’ efforts in the Southside so we have one cohesive action plan,” said Executive Director Sara Mitchell. “Right now, I’m not aware of what other food pantries are doing, but we are in conversations with as many as possible, because we know hourly workers are going to be hard hit due to social distancing. We want to make sure everyone who needs assistance in our service area has an outlet so they can feel comfortable asking for help. Their faith organization, UCOM, their place of work, etc. – if we all work together to help connect the dots, no one should go hungry, and we can work to minimize economic impact.”

UCOM’s food pantry is open for all client appointments Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with a few safe distancing modifications. All clients will need to make an appointment by phone at 904-396-2401. No walk-in appointments will be permitted, and no new client intake or crisis/case management will be taken in person, according to Mitchell.

The organization also recommends that community members help their at-risk neighbors in several ways: Offer direct aid to your next-door neighbors so that people will be limited from venturing out of their immediate neighborhoods or hold a virtual food and cleaning products drive for UCOM by using social media to connect and let friends and neighbors leave donations in a box on your doorstep.

UCOM is still seeking volunteers as well as food and cash donations. Donors will not be asked to enter the building or be in close contact with anyone. “UCOM will not be distributing hand sanitizer or toilet paper but will instead share travel-sized bar soap with every client.

We will have a table set up in the parking are for donations to be placed. Volunteers will bring them into the building to weigh and shelf/pack. Anyone wishing to volunteer can email Mitchell at saramitchell@ucomjax.org for a quick prescreening for safety.

A dinner meal for outside guests of the City Rescue Mission starts at 4:30 p.m.
A dinner meal for outside guests of the City Rescue Mission starts at 4:30 p.m.

City Rescue Mission

In the COVID-19 crisis, City Rescue Mission (CRM) Executive Director Penny Kievet is aiming to keep staff and clients safe while making sure she has ample space to accommodate as many people as possible. “We are taking anybody in for overnight services that is in need at our New Life Inn downtown,” she said, noting that each client is screened by filling out a questionnaire and submitting to a temperature reading. If a doctor is required, CRM contacts the City Health Department for their further care. “We are happy to have them back if they are cleared by the Health Department. Hopefully we will find out early enough so the people who are sick can be isolated in some way,” she said.

In contrast, clients within CRM’s addiction recovery program are served by a doctor and nursing staff on the nonprofit’s campus for everything other than urgent health care, she said. 

While other nonprofits are seeking additional volunteer help, CRM is discouraging volunteers from assisting at this time. “We are asking them to come back when we don’t have the worry of COVID-19,” she said, noting the new policy is for the safety of the volunteers, CRM staff and clients. “It has reduced our staff, but it’s the right thing to do for our volunteers.” 

In March, the number of meals CRM provided daily increased from 750 to more than 1,200, Kievet said, adding that she expects to serve 2,000 or more meals a day in April.  

She requests donors consider providing the nonprofit with three things: canned protein such as tuna fish or chicken and canned vegetables in industrial sized containers; money for use in purchasing sanitation supplies that are 60-65% alcohol-based in accordance with CDC specifications; white sheets and pillow cases and cheap pillows. “Everyone who stays with us gets a new pillow,” she said. “If someone comes and spends seven nights with us, we then have to throw the pillow away when they leave. I’ve heard Walmart is selling two pillows for $5. Those are great gifts to us because we go through them very quickly. These are the things that we really, really need.”

Clara White Mission

Things have changed at Clara White Mission since COVID-19 has encroached on Jacksonville. Because so many loyal volunteers are sheltering in place, JuCoby Pittman and her staff have been working with a “skeleton” crew as they provide for significantly more homeless clients each day, as well as the veterans that live at the mission.

In the past the mission would host a congregate breakfast each morning. Now it serves breakfast-to-go outdoors with plenty of sanitary precautions and social distancing so staff, volunteers and clients, can be safe. Clients are served immediately upon arrival, allowing them to enter in one door and exit through another. A portable hand sink is present for individuals to wash their hands before getting their meal-to-go, and the staff asks each person five health-related questions in order to divide those who may be ill from the others. The Mission contacts the Jacksonville Health Department if any clients require COVID-19 testing, Pittman said, adding that, in the future, clients who need to be quarantined may be sent to unused rooms in Downtown hotels.  

Since the middle of March, Clara White Mission has seen a sharp uptick in the number of diners requesting free meals, said Pittman, noting the Mission has been feeding as many as 400-500 per day. More families have also been calling for packaged food, she said. 

Since the virus began spreading, volunteers have been scarce, and Mission administrative staff has been forced to step in to help. Church services and community meetings have also been discontinued, she said, noting she is grateful to the volunteers from Celebration Church and Hopewell Church in Mandarin, for continuing to come a few days a month to assist. 

Clara White Mission’s greatest needs are more volunteers, non-perishable food donations, and monetary contributions so the nonprofit can buy food in bulk, Pittman said. “Our main interest is caring for the homeless, who count on us every day to provide a nutritious meal.” 

A staff member at Cathedral Towers distributes ready-to-go diners to the residents.
A staff member at Cathedral Towers distributes ready-to-go diners to the residents.

Aging True 

It’s business as usual at Aging True Community Senior Services with some modifications, said Director of Development Lori McMullin. “We are continuing to provide services to our seniors, and we are still accepting people who qualify for them,” she said.

At Cathedral Towers and other residential housing developments operated by Aging True, many of the senior residents are self-quarantining as a precaution and the nonprofit is providing to-go meals which the residents can take upstairs to their rooms. Visitors to the buildings are restricted, and the nonprofit is considering using only essential staff to better keep the residents safe.

Aging True has also changed the way it is delivering meals to senior centers in Duval County. Closed are the senior centers, where many elderly residents daily eat together in the dining room. Instead, the nonprofit is providing to-go meals for the seniors to pick up and bring home. 

In its Meals-on-Wheels program, which provides food to home-bound seniors, precautions are being taken to protect both the clients and staff who deliver the meals. Volunteers are asked to wear masks, gloves, and to sanitize and wash their hands frequently, said McMullin.

“Everything is changing day to day,” she said. “The best way to support Aging True is to make a monetary donation so it can continue to provide these vital services to our elderly, frail and vulnerable clients. Money allows us to deploy resources where they are most needed.”

Salvation Army’s field kitchen serves meals to people in need
Salvation Army’s field kitchen serves meals to people in need

The Salvation Army of Northeast Florida

The Salvation Army’s goal to “do the most good, to the most people, in the most need,” has become more acute since the advent of COVID-19. Still an important source of shelter for the homeless and vulnerable, the Army has made safety its utmost priority in its efforts to slow the spread of the virus among its employees, volunteers and the individuals it serves.

In response to the pandemic, the Army’s meal ministry has been shifted to a field kitchen located outside of its Towers Center of Hope at 900 W. Adams Street. The meal ministry is continuing to provide dinner for families and individuals every night at 6:15 p.m.

The Army’s food pantry at 140 North Davis St. is seeing an uptick above the normal 250 income-eligible families it serves. Bagged lunches are also available for pick up during food pantry hours. To ensure the safety of volunteers, staff, and recipients, no more than five individuals at a time are allowed in the pick-up are to receive food. Volunteers are required to wear gloves while serving and use hand sanitizer. Hand-washing stations are available on site.

Army staff is monitoring the 79 men and 32 women and children in its shelter Downtown for COVID-19 symptoms. If residents develop symptoms, they are sent immediately to emergency medical services or to visit their doctor. If there is a need to be quarantined, they are separated into a quiet recovery space consisting of a room with its own ventilation unit and separate bathroom. A maximum of two or three people can utilize the room.

Also, The Salvation Army’s church services have shifted online.

Monetary donations, volunteers, food donations, and sanitizing supplies are the Army’s greatest needs. For more information on how you can help, call 904-356-8641.

“We appreciate the dedication of our staff going above and beyond their normal duties and schedules to serve others during this unprecedented time,” said Area Commander Major Keath Biggers. “We are following stated guidelines to protect our clients as well as our staff from exposure to the COVID-19 virus. We are also working closely with our community nonprofit agencies and the Mayor’s Task Force on homelessness for a unified best plan of action to serve the vulnerable population. As always, we appreciate the continued support of our friends, donors and volunteers,” he said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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