Pandemic means more demand on human service organizations
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County Department of Human Services Director Kelly Keith said the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on challenges she never expected to see, and she said there will be more to come in 2021.
“It’s a different time for all of us,” Keith said. “I worry that people that were able to make it through the first time might not be able to have the resources to make it through a second time.”
When Steamboat Resort and other businesses were forced to shutdown in March, it was a blow, Keith said. However, this time around it’s the start of a new season, and Keith fears businesses and workers are facing new hurdles. She has seen an increased demand for services the past several weeks after restaurants were closed to in-person dining and forced to go back to a takeout model for the second time as local COVID-19 case counts climbed.
Keith said people who have lost their jobs to the latest closures should file for unemployment and then reach out to the local Department of Human Services, which offers programs to help with food assistance, cash assistance and medical costs.
Keith said funds also are available through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — TANF — program, which now serves households with an income of less than $75,000 because of the pandemic.
“They definitely want to come to us first because most places like LiftUp of Routt County and Routt County United Way are going to come to us and make sure that there are not any state programs (to support them),” Keith said. “We want to make sure we’re leveraging all the funding in the community.”
LiftUp of Routt County is hoping to serve the needs of the community this holiday season by offering shoppers 50% off on items in the thrift store this month.
“Everything in the thrift store, except for Christmas decorations, is halfoff through the end of the month to serve people,” said LiftUp Executive Director Sue Fegelein. “There are so many people in financial trouble right now, so we are just doing that because people need to shop and get Christmas presents and stuff.”
LiftUp is also handing out vouchers through its food bank for those in need of a warm winter coat. The voucher can be used through Dec. 31 to purchase a coat in the thrift store.
Many local nonprofits also are facing challenging times as they work to meet the growing needs.
“I think most of our local nonprofits are seeing an uptick in need, and we are as well,” said LiftUp Executive Director Sue Fegelein. “The calls started increasing in October.”
In addition to people needing help after losing their jobs, she said she also has started getting calls from people who have been quarantined or have COVID and are unable to work.
“It’s kind of this double whammy of no work, plus perhaps people in other circumstances actually being ill or being quarantined and lacking a paycheck because of that,” Fegelein said.
Fegelein said those who have been infected by the virus, those that have been quarantined and seniors who don’t want to venture out can call LiftUp at 970-875-3441 and request to have food delivered to them.
It’s just one of the many changes the organization has seen in the past nine months as it continues to overcome the financial challenges brought on by increased demand.
LiftUp has served 234 people in Routt County with emergency financial assistance and another 31 with vouchers to the thrift store through November. The food bank has provided 4,883 food bank shopping trips since the pandemic began.
LiftUp has spent $259,475 for financial support and food costs despite budgeting only $169,000 for the entire year. The nonprofit also handed out another $193,719 in housing assistance, far surpassing its $55,000 budget. The thrift store, which provides a large percentage of LiftUp’s operational budget each year, is 47% below budget in 2020 due to COVID-related closures.
“We have depended incredibly heavily on donations and grants to get our community through this time,” Fegelein said.
She said COVID-specific grants from organizations like the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and others from the state have helped bridge the funding gap, but she said community support has been key. On Yampa Valley Gives Day, LiftUp surpassed its fundraising goal of $40,000.
“Our community completely stepped up with donations and grants,” Fegelein said. “For most nonprofits, December is their biggest fundraising month because people are inclined to give during that time. We’re depending on donations and grants to help get us through the first quarter of 2021.”
Fegelein and Keith are not expecting the need to go away anytime soon.
“We want people to reach out and see if you can qualify,” Keith said. “We have programs where we can help people out with different things. We can also connect people to different resources, and if it’s not through us, we can see if LiftUp or United Way or someone else can help out.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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Sheila Symons’ son got COVID-19 around Labor Day. He has since missed about five weeks of school, spent five days at Children’s Hospital in Aurora and has seen more doctors than an 11-year-old child should.