By Kathryn Kahler Vose
November 24, 2020
Republished with permission from The Local Scoop
As concern spread around the world about the novel coronavirus, and whether a 100-year pandemic was eminent, local nonprofits in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula took action to create a much-needed safety net to help the essential workers and protect those most vulnerable to health issues, food insecurity and a host of other problems.
That safety net remains in place today and will until COVID-19 is under control.
The Healthy Harvest Food Bank began stockpiling food in anticipation of increased demand. The River Counties Community Foundation (RCCF) created a special COVID-19 Response Fund to help local nonprofits. The YMCAs of the Virginia Peninsulas opened childcare for essential and
emergency workers. And other nonprofits responded in kind.
The World Health Organization declared the pandemic on March 11. And on March 13, the United States declared it a national emergency and residents began to self-quarantine. Over the next few days, local businesses shuttered, citizens lost jobs, schools closed, and children moved quickly to virtual learning. Essentially, life changed dramatically, and no one is sure when it will return to “normal.”
RCCF suspended its competitive grants program to focus on needs around COVID-19. One of its first Covid-19 Response Fund grants was to the YMCAs in Lancaster and Middlesex counties. After a special request from Gov. Ralph Northam, the Ys got emergency childcare up and running over a weekend in mid-March. The Northern Neck YMCA’s program is funded by the River Counties Community Foundation, in partnership with The Jessie Ball duPont Fund and the Wiley Foundation.
“While others were told to stay away, our staff was told to rush in and help. Most of America got to shelter in place or were laid off, we asked our team to step in and go to work,” said Mark Favazza, Regional Development Director of the YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas.
Jennifer Markulin, an ultrasound tech at Rappahannock General Hospital (RGH), was deemed an emergency worker, a first responder, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each morning as she went to work, she dropped off her son, Boeing, now a third grader, at the Northern Neck YMCA’s Wiley Child Development Center.
Boeing takes his tablet to do his online classes and homework and his bike to ride during outside activities. And he loves to play with the Childcare Director Mary Posey’s dog during playtime.
“The Y’s childcare has been a real blessing,” Markulin said. “Boeing loves to go there. I do not know what I would have done without it. This is the first time I have utilized the Wiley Center, and it has been an ideal situation.” The Wiley Center is just across the street from RGH.
While food insecurity had dropped slightly overall in the Northern Neck and Middlesex over the last two years, the Healthy Harvest Food Bank saw a 20 to 25% increase in demand for food at its food pantries across the area. The Food Bank established emergency food pantries in each county where residents could pick up “drive-through” food boxes. No more going in to shop!
The demand dropped some after residents received the extra unemployment from the federal government but climbed after that ran out in late July and early August. As the pandemic continues and the loss of jobs grows, more food insecurity is expected. Mark Kleinschmidt, President and CEO of Healthy Harvest, said he expects an increase in demand of at least 25% through February.
Hands Across Middlesex (HAM) saw an increase in demand for food, but the demand changes were interesting demographically, according to Dave Cryer, HAM Vice President, Food Pantry Director and Facilities Director. (He and his wife donated the land and built the HAM headquarters in Locust Hill.)
The organization lost about 5 to 10% of its regular clients, mostly older seniors, but had an increase of 10 to 20% of younger people who needed food. “Lots of our regulars and seniors were just afraid to come out,” Cryer said. “Those who had lost jobs turned to us for the first time.” And the organization began making deliveries to seniors who could not come in to pick up food. HAM closed its clothing closet, opened in 1992, but has recently reopened it, limiting visits to 10 clients at a time.
Bay Aging, which serves many vulnerable, older adults often with underlying health conditions, began in mid-March ordering emergency supplies (personal protective equipment) to protect workers, volunteers and their clients because the Bay Aging staff go into homes frequently. “Like everyone else, we were madly scrambling for protection supplies,” said Development Director Jean Duggan.
In April, they began delivering two-night meals per week in addition to the Meals on Wheels program. The evening meals were purchased from local restaurants and delivered by volunteers. This program helped local restaurants as well as the seniors who received them. In Lancaster alone, 80 meals were delivered per week. Duggan, herself, delivers meals
“My concern is that as the pandemic drags on, this is bigger than Bay Aging. Are there others that can help pick up this type of service?” Duggan asked. “It would be a very hard decision to make, not to continue the evening meals.”
Meanwhile, the Boys & Girls Club of the Northern Neck (BGCNN), with sites in both Lancaster and Northumberland counties, suspended their after-school programs in March and began distributing meals and snacks in three locations. Between March 31 and August 14, they distributed nearly 37,500 meals and snacks. And that will continue until children are safely back in school full time.
The Club also put together activity bags that families could pick up to educate and entertain the children and youth while they were distance learning and over the summer. The
community participated with the Lancaster Community Library contributing reading materials, the Steamboat Museum contributing games and the Rappahannock Garden Club contributing tomato plants.
“The community response was simply amazing,” said Tina Hagen, BGCNN Publications Coordinator.
The BGCNN is now functioning as an academic support center in addition to its regular programming. They allow no more than 25 to 40 children and youth per group. This involves children and youth who may not have access to a computer or broadband.
Normally, the waiting room of the Northern Neck and Middlesex Free Health Clinic (NNMFHC) in Kilmarnock, is packed, shoulder to shoulder, as patients await their appointments. But after mid-March, the clinic moved to telemedicine visits. “If patients did not need to come in
and could be seen via telehealth, we did that,” said Jeannie Nelson, NNMFHC Executive Director. If patients needed to be seen in person, they were and are.
The NNMFHC saw a surge in patients, which continues.
The Virginia Commonwealth University dental students, who do the cleaning and basic dental checks, stopped coming to the dental clinic. While much of the dental clinic has returned to a pre-pandemic “normal’ there are still significant protocols in place to protect both service
providers and patients.
These local nonprofits continue to contribute to this essential safety net as they serve our community. But with an uptick in demand because of the novel coronavirus, they need our help even more.
Please see the list below on how you might contribute to them during this season of giving. You, too, can be part of this critical safety net.
Supporting Our Community
These organizations have created a COVID-19 safety net for emergency workers and those vulnerable in our community. Please consider donating to them to help them maintain the
safety net and help our community.
Healthy Harvest Food Bank
River Counties Community Foundation
YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas
Hands Across Middlesex
Boys & Girls Club of the Northern Neck
Northern Neck & Middlesex
Free Health Clinic