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COVID-19 Pandemic Response Blog

June 8, 2020

Equity and Inclusion

By Terri Legg

The past few weeks have been incredibly challenging. First, we are responding to a pandemic that requires us to rethink what the new “normal” is and what that will look like in the future. And now, there is a blinding spotlight shining on the tremendously difficult issues of race and equity across our country. I have struggled to formulate my own thoughts and feelings both with COVID-19 and more recently with the senseless death of George Floyd. The recent events involving violence and threats against black people expose our society’s institutional racism. In the midst of all of this, we must come together to reject racism and violence, bigotry and hate. We at United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties will stand with partner organizations and individuals that espouse the same core beliefs, and that bring the voices and perspectives of those that are underrepresented and marginalized into the work that we do.

During this tenuous time, we recognize that organizations and individuals are being called upon to respond in many ways. It is the same for us at United Way. But now, more than ever, we must bring an intersectional lens on matters of race, equity, and inclusion, as they are more relevant than ever to our mission and to the fundamental essence of the work that we do.

Sitting on the sidelines is not an option.

It will take every one of us, UNITED, to make sure that each of our neighbors experience the same opportunities, education, safety and security so that they can thrive. We need to step up, get involved, use our passion, and our resources to truly face and fight the injustices happening every day, all around us. We need to recognize that long before COVID-19, many members of black and brown communities have never felt safe to move freely within our community. This fear is rooted in the country’s history of institutional and systemic racism, prolonged by policies, practices and cultural norms.

Together we can:

  • continue to learn about our own biases and privilege.
  • seek to understand some of the historical and current conditions that our neighbors, friends, and coworkers encounter every day.
  • rely on one another right here, right now, to build up, our fortitude, our compassion and our commitment.
  • remain unified in our efforts to bring light to the issue by advocating for racism as a local and national public health crisis.

Finally, and most importantly, United Way is committed to serving the people in our community and working in partnership with others to build a future where the color of our skin does not determine life outcomes. We do not have all the answers today, but the time is overdue for all of us to become actively anti-racist. We must LIVE UNITED. 

May 31, 2020

Emergency Food and Shelter Program

In recent weeks Montcalm and Ionia County Emergency Food and Shelter Board Members, including United Way staff, have been working hard to distribute Phase 37 and Phase CARES money. Montcalm County received $22,841 through Phase 37 and $32,565 through Phase CARES. Ionia County received $13,241 through Phase 37. The local board works throughout the year to manage federal EFSP funds.

May 1, 2020

Giving Tuesday

By Terri Legg

The coronavirus has severely interrupted our lives in a way that will have long-term effects on our community. Teachers and students have been forced out of their classrooms, unemployment is soaring to record levels and our community’s health is at risk. 
When I think about the potential of businesses going back to work over the coming weeks, I can’t help but think that I do not want things to go back to normal.  Don’t get me wrong, I cannot wait to spend time with family and friends and go to my favorite ice cream shop. 
But what is “normal” anyway? Before the coronavirus and before we began sheltering-in-place, normal meant that nearly 50% of Montcalm and Ionia Counties were ALICE households (Asset – Limited, Income- Constrained, Employed) that already struggled to make ends meet. Normal meant that we had a lack of affordable housing. Normal meant that quality daycare is often not available to many of our families. Normal meant that we have an invisible homeless population that is going to bed in a tent or in their car. 
I hear people saying things like, “When it goes back to normal…” I challenge everyone to think about what the new normal could look like and what we can do to help create a better normal where 50% of our local community is not struggling to make ends meet. 
As we begin to think about what the future holds, and we begin to learn, work, and connect with friends and family, we need to learn to invest in and support each other differently than we did before. 
If you are a medical professional, a first responder, or a corrections officer, we thank you. If you are a grocery clerk or a postal worker, we thank you. If you are like me and have been promoted to the title of a fourth grade teacher in addition to all of the other titles that you might have, we thank you. If you have stayed home and wear a mask in public, we thank you. If you have volunteered, helped a loved one or neighbor, we thank you. And for all those that have made donations to our United Way Covid-19 Crisis Fund, we thank you. 
We are joining nonprofits across the county in a global day of giving and unity on #GivingTuesday on May 5th, 2020. We hope that you will envision a new normal with us by donating to the United Way COVID-19 Crisis Fund. 
Together, UNITED, we will get through this. Sending you and yours many blessings.
Terri Legg 
Executive Director
United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties. 

May 1, 2020

8 Ways to Thank Frontline Workers

How will you participate in #GivingTuesdayNow?

Nurses. Doctors. Grocery store employees. Delivery drivers. Warehouse workers. First responders. Truck drivers. Cleaners. There are so many people who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak. They continue to help keep our community safe and the world running. To honor and celebrate their ongoing sacrifice, let’s say thank you! 
May 5th: Say Thank You
Join United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties on May 5th as we rally the entire community to say thank you to the essential workers who have tirelessly and bravely continued to do their jobs. Our effort will be one part of a bigger day of giving and unity called #GivingTuesdayNow. 
Every year people come together on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving for #GivingTuesday, a global generosity movement. As an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19, we are joining nonprofits and individual people around the world in a special #GivingTuesdayNow event. On May 5th people around the world will take action to collectively drive an influx of generosity, citizen engagement, business and philanthropy activation, and support for communities and nonprofits around the world.

We want to show the world that United Way Montcalm – Ionia Counties is United for frontline workers!

8 Ways to Say Thank You
There are many ways to say thank you. Below are some ideas our staff put together. Choose one – or more – so frontline workers can know how much our community appreciates them! If you have other ideas let us know by emailing and we will add them to the list.
1. Donate a meal
Everyone loves a free meal. If you are thinking about donating a meal, be sure to coordinate with the location so your delivery can be done efficiently and safely. If you can’t make the delivery yourself, you can buy a meal instead. Many national and local businesses are delivering meals to support frontline workers. 
Remember meal donations can be a great way to thank hospital workers as well as the staff at your doctor’s office, EMTs, police officers, firefighters and grocery clerks.
2. Make a sign for your window or front yard
Make someone’s commute to work brighter by posting a sign in your window or front yard telling frontline workers how much they mean to our community. This is a great project for kids!
3. Be kind
Essential workers who are keeping grocery, convenience and pharmacy stores open see large groups of people every day. When you must shop at one of these stores, be respectful of the people working there. Tell them thank you, wear a protective mask, keep your distance from employees and be kind to team members and other customers. These small acts can help workers feel appreciated and safer at their jobs.
4. Share a message on social media
As we all keep our physical distance, connecting online has become even more important. Using social media is a great way to thank frontline workers. You can tag people you know or send a general message using the hashtags #FrontlineLove, #FrontlineHeroes, #COVIDHeroes or #InThisTogether. On May 5th, you can also reshare posts from our Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn channels.
5. Leave items for delivery workers
Delivery workers are putting in long hours and many find it hard to get to the store. Help them by leaving items such as water bottles, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, snacks and other essentials that will get them through their day or save them a trip to the store. Remember to sanitize the items as best as you can and leave instructions so the delivery people do the same. 
6. Email Congress 
Show frontline workers you appreciate their work by helping them get the support they need. During this time of uncertainty and economic crisis, many people, including those still working, need a boost to make ends meet. Vital services like 211, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and SNAP can provide relief for frontline workers – and others – in need. You can ask your representative to increase funding for these services. Use this form to email your member of Congress.
7. Join a daily salute 
Across the world, many communities are now doing a daily salute to frontline workers by lighting candles, applauding, cheering, howling or sounding horns at a certain time of day. Check neighborhood Facebook groups, posts on Next Door and local newspapers to find one that is happening in your neighborhood. 
8. Stay at home
The most important thing you can do to thank frontline workers is to stay home. When we all stay home, we limit the spread of COVID-19. So limit outings to essential trips to the grocery store, medical appointments, picking up prescriptions, walking pets and helping the vulnerable. When outside, use social distancing to stay at least six feet away from others.
Even though we are apart, we can still be United. Let’s show frontline workers that we are in this together!

Thank You!

April 24, 2020

Volunteer Stories Series

Barrie's House

By Faith Brophy
“Love is toilet paper. Love is a gallon of milk.  Love is a mask, handmade for volunteers by those receiving food.”
In January of this year, Sara McCallum stepped in to help coordinate volunteers and food distribution at Barrie’s House at Settlement Lutheran Church in Gowen. She began volunteering as a way to help occupy her time after becoming an empty-nester. She had no idea how her time would be occupied so quickly! Yet, in the few short months since she started, she has encountered many unspoken heroes and experienced some remarkable moments of hope and generosity, especially in recent weeks since the Covid-19 crisis hit hard.  
Many people immediately responded with, “What can I do to help?” Everyday heroes have been coming forward in a variety of ways. The response of people wanting to help has been overwhelming, and the indomitable human spirit has been on display in more ways than just handing out food.
Those in the more susceptible demographics have been asked not to volunteer in the distribution of food, but one woman wanted to find a way to help anyway. A skilled seamstress, she made over 30 masks for Barrie’s House volunteers. Once word got out that she was making masks, she happily fulfilled requests for additional masks for volunteers’ family members and friends.   
It’s not just volunteers who want to help. One family that has been receiving food from the pantry for a number of years asked how things were going. When they found out that masks were needed, they showed up a few days later with dozens of handmade masks for Barrie’s House to use or give out.
What Sara McCallum has learned is that it’s really important for people to be able to give, no matter who they are. Even those on the receiving end of the food distribution ask what they can do to help. One family was so thankful and wanted to give something back. All they had was a roll of pennies, but Sara says, their heartfelt gift demonstrates how important it is for everyone to be able to meet needs.
Local businesses and restaurants have collected and donated food items and other necessities. Volunteers have shown up to help distribute food. Even volunteers from other pantries came to observe how a food distribution operates but ended up helping hand out food. When there was a surplus of food the first week of the food truck, Barrie’s House offered the surplus to volunteers to help distribute the more perishable items to others. One volunteer brought a gallon of milk and some other food to a neighbor, a single mom of 5 children, who teared up with thankfulness and the admission that her family hadn’t had milk in days.
Sara says that while sending the surplus with volunteers is certainly an “unconventional way of distributing food, but when you have a surplus, you figure it out!”  
In the first three weeks of the Feeding America Food Trucks, Barrie’s House distributed 5000 pounds of food, which translates to 5000 meals served. Before the Covid-19 crisis, Barrie’s House served about 20-30 households each week through their food pantry. That number has now doubled and includes many new families who haven’t needed it before.
While Barrie’s House is busier now than it’s ever been, Sara says this current crisis has revealed some of the best aspects of the human heart and spirit. The overwhelming response of the community through collaboration and rising up to meet needs in creative and amazing ways continues to be remarkable. 
“Sometimes you go into something thinking you’re going to help people, and at the end of it, you realize they ended up helping you,” Sara reflects on her volunteer role. “There’s always something you can learn from everyone.” 
Barrie’s House at Settlement Lutheran Church is a food pantry and clothing distribution center that has been serving the community since 1992. They are a Feeding America Food Truck distribution site on Thursdays at 11am during this Covid-19 crisis.