COVID-19’s financial impacts extend beyond food and housing: Kent County grants are helping

As COVID-19 continues to take its toll on Kent County residents’ health and household budgets, government agencies and nonprofit organizations have responded with policies and actions supporting food security, help with housing, and medical support. While many of us complain about not having haircuts or gray roots growing in, our income-challenged Kent County neighbors have more pressing hygiene issues — the added expense of disposable diapers, incontinent supplies, laundry soap, deodorant and other hygiene essentials can come at a very high cost.

Providing these supplies is on the Kent County Non-Profit Organization COVID-19 Grant Fund list of eligible services that can be covered by its grants. In fact, ten of the 77 currently selected grantees have hygiene supplies listed among the goods and services that they will use grant money to supply.

A Mother’s Touch will provide diapers and personal care items to mothers in its recovery programs. Ama International will provide personal basic hygiene items and diapers to families in crisis and Title 1 students. The Grand Rapids Community College Foundation will provide personal hygiene products to students in need who are pursuing their postsecondary education. Meaning In Colors, Buist Community Assistance Center, Family Network of Wyoming, Living In Fulfillment Everyday, Inc., Fe De Reino/Kingdom Faith, and Volunteers in Service will provide hygiene items to their wider range of clients.Supplies from A Mother's Touch.

“Prior to the pandemic, many families and individuals struggled to meet their basic needs. COVID-19 has worsened the strain on those who were already struggling and caused others to experience difficulties for the first time in their lives,” says Michelle Van Dyke, president/CEO Heart of West Michigan United Way, the organization managing the selection process. “These dollars provide critical relief to nonprofits who are working tirelessly to serve the growing needs of so many in our community.”

Set up in July by the Kent County Board of Commissioners, the fund is distributing $9.5 million in federal CARES Act dollars to local nonprofit and human service organizations providing COVID-19 response. Grants ranging from $5,000 to $150,000 are funding COVID-related services that support food security, transportation, at-risk families and youth, children’s educational programs, mental and behavioral health — and personal hygiene.

“Personal hygiene, that’s a need because, as we know, with hours reduced from work, some of our moms run into a difficulty being able to purchase diapers, [menstrual] pads, and personal care products,” says Crystal Barnett, CEO of A Mother’s Touch, a Grand Rapids nonprofit providing transitional housing and counseling services to mothers in recovery from substance abuse. “We know when mom cannot provide those basic hygiene things for themselves, it reduces self-esteem.”Volunteers with Meaning In Colors.

A Mother’s Touch is also using their grant funds to provide temporary housing. Up to four mothers, each with one child, can stay in the nonprofit’s housing for up to 12 months.

“We provide assistance with life skills enhancement based on where they are at when they come in and where they decide they want to go when they leave,” Barnett says. “Goal planning is part of our one-on one-case management. They are learning how to grocery shop, how to prepare meals, and do a lot of work time management. We do some fun things, too — movie nights, monthly community house meetings, paint parties.”

The program also helps the moms build parenting skills, for example learning how to bond with their infants, to recognize baby’s cues, and understand what their cries really mean.

In Byron Center, Buist Community Assistance Center will provide personal hygiene products to a different demographic. While the nonprofit serves a diverse population in southern Kent County, many of its clients are elders and adults with disabilities.

“There are a lot of ‘gap people’ who are making it, but not quite,” says Jenelle Jonkman, director of Buist Community Assistance Center. “They are unemployed right now or difficult to employ either because of lack of education, mental capacity, or other conditions.”

A month’s worth of incontinence supplies can cost up to $240. Buist will also use the grant funds to stock food items it shares with small church-based and mobile pantries.

Another Grand Rapids nonprofit organization, Meaning In Colors provides resources for individuals struggling with personal, academic and professional growth. Its services range from mentoring to transitional housing. Its CEO, Iryonna Hogan, says that the nonprofit will also use funds from its COVID-19 grant to provide its clients with hygiene supplies. Part of the nonprofit’s program focuses on repairing credit and building wealth.

“People don’t realize literally how their check is spread so thin once they take care of rent and medical expenses. What I found is that they have little or no money for basic hygiene supplies like deodorant, soap, or diapers for their children,” Hogan says. “All of these things we all should have access to.”

For those who are out of work, it is difficult to land a job when they cannot afford to take care of their personal hygiene. Originally, Hogan founded Meaning in Colors to address the needs of 18- to 24-year-olds. COVID-19 has compelled her to expand that reach.

“Due to what’s going in Grand Rapids, people who go to work every single day and don’t qualify for subsidized housing are being forced to live on the streets,” she says. “I see people from all walks of life fall into that area being held accountable for finding housing but don’t have the means to get it on their own.”

Kent County nonprofits can still apply for funding.

“The pandemic has changed the level of need in our community, with many finding themselves suddenly requiring assistance for the first time,” said Kent County Board of Commissioners Chair Mandy Bolter. “We remain committed to helping our non-profit partners address critical needs such as food assistance, mental and physical health services, and other programs to help people get back on their feet.”

Images courtesy of A Mother's Touch, Buist Community Assistance Center, and Meaning In Colors, respectively.

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