The Mission Continues: Wesley House

2/18/2021

A report by Executive Director, Rev. David Schultz

When COVID-19 became a reality in March of 2020 many questions developed regarding our missions at the Wesley House Community Center. Clients could come by anytime for Christian Relief with various needs for food, clothing and bill-pay assistance. The enrollment in our preschool dropped significantly with many parents or siblings staying at home. Trying to schedule interviews and meetings in our Child Advocacy Center was a challenge. Unfortunately, this also meant that children would be staying home with their abusers. Under normal situations any one of these would be a challenge. During COVID-19 we had to approach each of these in their own way.

A greater challenge for us was to maintain food distribution during the crisis. While we had distributed 700 family food bags in January 2020 prior to the pandemic, March had us distribute over 2,000 family food bags. This meant increased trips out of town to pick up product. We were especially challenged to pack these bags as our volunteers were quarantined and staying home as well. We did close the center for only two weeks in April to address the concerns of sanitation and regroup with food product. In reopening, we have continued distributing nearly 1,500 family bags per month since. Fortunately, requirements from the USDA allowed us to distribute in a drive thru fashion that helped speed up the process. We moved our food to a larger room to allow for palletized product to be brought in and developed a way of selecting product that makes it easy for our staff and volunteers. We are able to have a limited number of volunteers now to pack and help distribute. While we are no longer able to have individuals stop by for food, food distribution is now on Wednesdays from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Our clothes closet had to shut down. We could no longer have individuals coming into our center. This was especially challenging for the community we serve. One day while visiting our local soup kitchen I met up with one of our mutual clients. He pleaded and begged for the clothes closet to reopen. I responded like we all have with the familiar words, "due to COVID-19... " His response, "I just need a clean pair of pants!" was most compelling and motivated us to make the clothes available in some way. Now, we move the clothes to our "Playground for Jesus" on Friday mornings for the public to come and get. There is plenty of room for social distancing. For more immediate needs during the week, we take one's sizes and requests and have a staff person pull those for pickup. This has worked well in several situations where someone got a new job or a family was displaced due to fire. Moreover, we are able to help someone that simply needs a clean pair of pants.

As parents returned to work and siblings returned to school, we saw many of our preschoolers return to our preschool. We have worked diligently to maintain a clean environment and are still challenged with children coming and going. Parents are restricted from entering the facility and staff escort the children to and from their parents. This is an ongoing challenge to keep our children, their families and our staff safe.

The Child Advocacy Center and Sexual Assault Crisis Center have been impacted by COVID-19 as well. Initially we tried to have staff work remotely. However, the nature of a forensic interview is one that cannot be done via Zoom or through a remote application. The greater challenge is that many children were sent home from school and were at greater risk with their abusers. In the beginning months children were not seeing their teachers, coaches and trusted individuals to whom they could report abuse. As things developed and children came back to school, we saw a tremendous increase in the number of reports and needs for our services by the fall. In addition to adding and trying to train more staff we have implemented a tele mental health program which does allow us to have therapy with some clients remotely. Currently, we need to expand our office space to accommodate our growing center.

Because of the effects COVID-19 had on our hospitals we could no longer visit victims of sexual abuse in the emergency rooms. We have continued to maintain our 24 hotline while serving those in need with counseling services. We have been challenged to get out and educate the public as many entities don't want to utilize outside services. We have participated in numerous online and zoom trainings to try to educate the public. Our Safe Dates program in the local high schools has gone to a virtual training as well.

As we entered another year of COVID-19 we can see many changes in the ways we do ministry at the Wesley House Community Center. Our mission remains consistent, to provide a "Hand Up" to those in need. The focus of that statement comes through our Christian Relief, Education, Child Advocacy Center and Sexual Assault Crisis Center. How we go about that work may vary for a variety of reasons. We pray that through our efforts God is glorified.

To find out more, visit wesleyhousemeridian.org.
 

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