The global health pandemic has been a time of cutbacks: unemployment levels reaching new highs, businesses closing, families struggling to keep afloat with reduced income. But for at least one Family Promise affiliate, it has been a time of growth.
Family Promise of Lower Bucks in Levittown, PA, has used the health crisis to expand its volunteer program. The virtual and no-contact opportunities presented by COVID-19 allowed them to creatively engage new volunteers, increasing awareness of the crisis of family homelessness and growing their supporter base.
Like most affiliates, Family Promise of Lower Bucks encouraged its volunteers to continue to support families, even when it couldn’t be done in person. Volunteers provided meals, transportation, and other assistance with little to no contact with families. The new approach to volunteering caught the attention of others in the community, and the affiliate capitalized on the exposure.
“Many volunteers had friends or family who saw what was going on and wanted to be involved,” explains Executive Director Jessica Schwartz.
She notes that because the new volunteering model doesn’t involve personal contact with families, the typical training and clearances necessary prior to becoming a Family Promise volunteer don’t apply. This makes it easy for newcomers to get involved quickly and begin to learn more about Family Promise. Schwartz adds that the affiliate has also received donations from new supporters and is pleased that one of the silver linings to the COVID-19 crisis has been an increased awareness of the crisis of family homelessness.
COVID has also brought the affiliate a new shelter site. Right before the virus exploded in the U.S., Schwartz had approached a potential host site about joining the rotational shelter program. Plans were put on hold when the pandemic took off, but when the affiliate needed alternate housing for its shelter families to meet quarantine restrictions, she decided to re-open the conversation.
“They have a whole campus of buildings, and one is a house with five rooms and two full baths,” Schwartz explains. “It’s perfect for a group of families.”
So Family Promise asked, and the congregation said yes. Families will be housed there at least through October.
In addition to adding volunteers and expanding its shelter options, Family Promise of Lower Bucks has had two families graduate into transitional housing during the pandemic.
One, a mom and her two-year-old son, came to Family Promise shortly before the pandemic hit. Family Promise helped the mom find steady employment and daycare for her son…then the world shut down. Mom lost her job, but Family Promise ensured she filed for unemployment benefits immediately and helped the family find an affordable apartment. Volunteers furnished the apartment within a week, and the family moved into their new home. Family Promise continues to help the mom with her job search.
Another family celebrated the birth of a daughter while still in the rotational shelter program. The onset of the health pandemic was especially worrisome for the family, who moved in with friends temporarily for the newborn’s safety. Family Promise is still providing case management to the family, ensuring they have enough food and supplies. Family Promise even helped the mom find a job (and, subsequently, childcare), and she received a raise within the first two months of employment!
The living arrangements were convenient for health reasons and because the family relied on their friends for transportation but disqualified them from government assistance since they weren’t considered homeless by federal standards. Family Promise was able to obtain other funding which enabled the family to find housing. Volunteers helped furnish the new home, and by that time, Mom had saved up enough money to purchase her own vehicle.
“People have really been inspired by [Family Promise] during this pandemic,” says Schwartz. “We’ve been able to involve so many new people, we’ve served more families, and volunteers can see they’re making a difference. We’re really excited about these new relationships!”