Friday, January 27, 2023

Local women’s shelters are struggling to provide childcare products during pandemic

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)

Nonprofits locally and across the country have seen their donations impacted — some severely —  in the past few months.

All because of the coronavirus.

Case in point would be women’s shelters, where the lack of donations sums up to an impact in childcare products — items desperately need by mothers in transition.

At Natasha House in Yorktown, women live in transitional housing apartments where many are able to care for their children while they get back on their feet. Karen Brown, director, said while Natasha House doesn’t directly provide baby care items, such as diapers, the women typically rely on other community organizations for these supplies.

Those supplies can also include toilet paper, disinfectant wipes or other paper products.

The organization then gathers those items and gives them to the women on a regular basis.

Many of the donations have slowed down because of the pandemic and the organization has had to purchase them for the first time ever.

“One of the things we’re doing is not giving the packages as often,” Brown said. “We have a budget and it’s already gone…so we have to be mindful of what we’re spending, because some items we can’t go without.”

Brown said the women have been instructed to include those previously donated items into their own budgets for the time being. 

The organization tries to supplement budgets by helping the women sell jewelry or other handmade items.

Part of the issue for Natasha House is that the spring fundraisers were canceled — again because of the coronavirus — and the organization is struggling for grant money because it’s not considered a front line nonprofit, Brown said. 

The organization recently received a $1,000 grant from York County’s Economic Development Authority which Brown said was helpful to buy some items in bulk. But if the donation lag continues, Brown said these items will run out.

Other local organizations are also stepping forward to try and fill the gap in other ways.

Williamsburg House of Mercy has hosted a number of drive-thru food drives since the pandemic started, during which the organization has distributed more than 70,000 diapers and feminine hygiene products, said Nicole Lancour, spokeswoman for Williamsburg House of Mercy.

Lancour said some of those items were collected through donation drives at local businesses, neighborhoods and organizations. But House of Mercy is still buying thousands of dollars worth of diapers and feminine hygiene products to make sure women and mothers in the community have what they need.

The organization also works to collect items such as formula, baby food, clothing and other childcare needs.

Lancour said the organization relies on the support of the community in order to provide those items to mothers and women.

“Our community has and hopefully will continue to support these efforts financially and with material donations while our ordering abilities and supply remain inconsistent,” she wrote in an email.

There hasn’t been an issue with donations at the Avalon Center, a Williamsburg nonprofit for women escaping abuse, said Teresa Christin, executive director.

“I think the community has responded amazingly,” Christin said. “I’ve been very heartened by the number of people and organizations that have reached out and asked if we need anything. If we ask for something, they come through.”

Avalon has a women’s shelter and transitional housing units available for women. At any given time, half of the residents on campus are children, Christin said. That means items such as baby wipes, diapers and other childcare supplies are always needed.

Christin said this time of year is usually when the center begins collecting donations for school supplies, but with no set plan for if schools will reopen there has been a pause on the donation drive.

If schools don’t reopen, then women at the center would find themselves facing the issue of childcare. Christin said many of the women have school-aged children but the Center doesn’t provide childcare if they have to go out to work. 

“Some of the women have lost their jobs during all of this,” Christin said. “So they’re home now and we’re just trying to work with them to help get them get ready for whatever is going to happen in the next six months.”

Avalon moved the families and women staying in the women’s shelter to various hotels in the area to protect women on campus. The shelter maintained 20 beds, and Christin said the cost of housing that many people in local hotels will eventually become too great for the organization. While Avalon originally planned on women returning to the shelter in the fall, Christin said she’s trying to find grant money and donations that could cover the hotel housing through December. 

“I’m worried about it,” Christin said. “I’m not sure what we can do besides looking for money.”

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Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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