The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout have made it more challenging for local nonprofits to serve the public safely while increasing the number who need to be served. The silver lining, according to those leading relief efforts, is in the many ways the community has stepped up to protect its most vulnerable.
Andrew Ross, executive director of the Center for Community Services, said the center, which provides emergency assistance and a range of services that foster long-term self-sufficiency, has seen an outpouring of support.
“Crisis always brings opportunities to see where the gaps are,” Ross said. “We’ve had an influx of people needing assistance, but we’ve also had an influx of generosity from churches, organizations, businesses and individuals, some finding creative ways of meeting those needs.”
For example, when the local Rotary chapter had to cancel its meeting to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the group took the funds that would have been used to provide food for the gathering and donated them to CCS. Walmart reached out to donate food, which was then sorted and delivered by church partners. Members of Grace Church on Harrison Bridge Road and First Baptist of Simpsonville called the center asking, “What do you need from us? We’re willing to do whatever.”
This extra help was invaluable as CCS scrambled to make the best use of available resources. Now, as millions across the country find themselves without work, it’s hard to imagine what the new normal will be.
“This time has created an empathy opportunity. This uncertainty and fear that so many are feeling, the people we serve feel that all the time,” Ross said. “Americans have a very short-term memory, and the work we do could be put on the back burner once things return to normal. The challenge is how do we maintain empathy once the crisis has passed.”
Initially, the center focused on distributing food and reallocating funds to help families in crisis pay utilities and other bills. Now the focus is shifting to include developing strategies to better address underlying issues, like the scarcity of food, using what was learned while adapting to the crisis.
For example, local farmers and other producers donated “rescued” food to Upstate relief agencies, making fresh produce and dairy available for people in need. In order to be able to continue to offer healthier options, CCS may explore the idea of creating a garden.
Providing short-term assistance is only part of what the center does, Ross said. Other services, including job training and instruction in soft skills such as how to find and apply for a job, are offered to promote long-term stability.
“In this new reality, how do we get people back to work in an efficient way? How do we maintain the new partnerships we’ve made and provide manufacturers with workers with the skills they need?” Ross said. “We want to develop systems that will make our community stronger.”
CCS provides easy access to human services in the Golden Strip area. Foothills Family Resources offers similar services in northern Greenville County, and Greer Relief covers Greer, Taylors and surrounding areas. In response to the overwhelming needs presented by the COVID-19 crisis, the Community Foundation of Greenville made donations to each of the three to help meet immediate needs.
“We wanted to make sure we are supporting agencies that focus on shelter, food and other direct services in all parts of Greenville County,” said Bob Morris, president of the Community Foundation. “Gifts like these are made possible by endowments administered by the Community Foundation of Greenville such as the James T. & Ellis A. Pearce Endowment Fund. We honor the legacy of Jim and Kit Pearce by making gifts according to their wishes, and in their case, they wanted to provide funding for food and shelter. As a World War II veteran, Jim felt it was important to be sure families in Greenville County had a roof over their heads and food, and we are proud to support these organizations doing this work.”