“It’s our time.”
I’ve borrowed that wording from another writer, but there’s probably no better way to express the importance of Interfaith Community Services: in the year 2020, in the midst of a viral pandemic, and the likelihood of COVID-19’s continuing impact on Escondido and the greater San Diego County community.
Since 1979, Interfaith Community Services (headquarters location 550 W Washington Ave.) has provided a broad range of services to the homeless and those residents in need, its overriding effort being “to help people help themselves,” says Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith since 2014.
All America is wondering, of course, how soon we will back to “normal.” But because the virus is unlikely to be defeated in a few weeks – or even a few months – Anglea says preparation is needed, not for the “normal” but “what the ‘new normal’ will look like.” And given the abrupt and widespread impact of the virus, Interfaith has had to rapidly shift priorities, and then shift again, given the multiple uncertainties the virus continues to offer.
Interfaith, Anglea says, is committed to meeting that challenge, in particular the challenge of finding new ways to provide services to those in need, as far into the future as the virus makes it necessary.
One of Interfaith’s major programs has always been “case management,” he explains, meaning engaging those with critical needs and helping them move to a better place – say, out of homelessness or ill health, or to a new job after layoff, or from drug addiction to recovery, whatever may help to improve their circumstances, to live better, more productively.
But because the virus hit so quickly and affected so many, the agency had to quickly “pivot,” Anglea says, from its case management emphasis to the fulfillment of a more immediate and basic need: food, and providing it to those suddenly without a paycheck and insufficient savings to weather the viral storm.
And the community immediately met the need, with food and the necessary funds to keep its shelves stocked with food and other supplies. “The response was fantastic, Anglea says. “And thank god it was — the need was tremendous. We began seeing so many people we hadn’t seen before.”
Fiona King, manager of communications and development for Interfaith, reports that the agency “saw the number of people seeking food assistance nearly quadruple in the first months of COVID-19.” She added, “In just five days, our emergency food pantry served 1,258 adults and 770 children. Thankfully, we also saw an increase in food donations, including the biggest one-day food drive in Interfaith history: a record-breaking collection of 100,000 pounds!”
At the beginning of the crisis, she says, Interfaith launched an Emergency Fund with a $50,000 matching gift from a private donor, the community immediately responding with an outpouring of support. That support has enabled Interfaith to continue to operate according to budget while also dealing with the added costs forced by the crisis, the increased number of people needing help, and the hiring of additional staff.
Community response “was fantastic”, Anglea said. “And thank god it was — the need was tremendous. We were seeing so many people we hadn’t seen before.”
Anglea notes that the rapid shift to the provision of food was just one way that COVID-19 impacted Interfaith. There was also an immediate fall-off in the number of available staff and volunteers since so many people were dealing with a host of changed circumstances, most obviously the general mandate to shelter at home.
Ordinarily, he says, Interfaith has around 600 “ ‘professional’ volunteers” who work on the more intractable problems that the homeless and poor of the area face. Additionally, the agency had been able to call on nearly a thousand more volunteers to provide assistance with “lower skilled things.” Early on, the drop-off in personnel was nearly 90%, but Anglea reports that Interfaith has been recovering staff support, often with younger people out of work and having the time to volunteer. (Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact Volunteer Services Manager Micki Hickox at email@example.com.)
With the return of volunteers, and the virus showing little reluctance to abandon the field, Interfaith is again adapting. While continuing to provide needed food, it has reenergized its focus on case management. That has become even more important than before with the joblessness threatening to be long-term, especially in the restaurant sector and other service industries.
This is requiring Interfaith to use updated ways to fulfill that roll: for instance, by relying less on one-on-one contact with the use of Zoom or other online interactions. The main effort remains, Anglea says, to help the unemployed redirect their skills to other job sectors, other needs.
Meanwhile, Interfaith continues its many other services, from establishment of a mailing address for the homeless to ensure their receipt of medications and paychecks, to implementation of health screenings at all locations, to operation of its 32-bed Recuperative Care center, and many others.
With persistence of the virus, more than ever before this is “the time” for Interfaith Community Services and the multiple ways it works to provide its services.
“This is a watershed moment,” Anglea says of the pandemic and Interfaith’s need to focus on what “the new normal” will bring. This will mean continued exploration of innovative strategies to fulfill what he says is the agency’s primary role: “How do we help?”