Partnership for Children of Johnston County Partners with Tri-Area Ministry Food Pantry During COVID-19 Pandemic
Mariela, a single mom of two young girls in Johnston County, left her job at a restaurant and begun her own cleaning business right before the COVID-19 pandemic began. The business was doing wonderfully. She had a consistent clientele and was still able to spend time with her daughters. After the pandemic hit, her clients became reluctant to have people in their homes and her business began to slow. Suddenly, she was unable to work.
That is when the Partnership for Children of Johnston County stepped in.
Mariela’s story is tragically common in this mid-pandemic world. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Partnership for Children showed that in the past year 69% of respondents had to make the choice between buying diapers or buying something else for their family. This percentage is likely to increase as governmental assistance programs begin to end.
Partnership for Children knows that no family should ever have to make that choice and has made it their mission to provide a variety of new services to Johnston County residents throughout the pandemic including diaper and essential supply delivery as well as two separate food truck grocery distributions.
But their work didn’t stop there. As demand for cleaning supplies increased rapidly around the country, Johnston County childcare centers were struggling to get the goods they needed to keep their kids and staff safe. Closing the centers wasn’t an option because they had to remain open to provide services to the essential workers still reporting to work every day.
With a grant from United Way of the Greater Triangle’s Rapid Response Fund, the Partnership for Children was able to step in and provided childcare centers across the county with cleaning supplies, masks, and other essential goods necessary to continue to operate safely. The organization’s Program Director, Karen Mills, explains how important the three Rapid Response Fund grants have been to their work, saying that “the first round of grants primarily supported our childcare centers since they were really struggling to find all the necessary supplies they needed to remain open. It was crucial that we help them remain open to meet the childcare needs of our essential workers…and they are still struggling to find those supplies.”
Partnership for Children also used these funds to assist local families directly. Karen saw an issue emerging and acted. “A lot of people don’t realize that if you’re on food stamps, you can’t buy cleaning supplies with those funds or you can’t buy toothpaste or toothbrushes.”
Mariela was a recipient of some of these funds, telling Partnership for Children: “You don’t know how much this means to me right now. Thank you all so much. This is amazing.”
As United Way of the Greater Triangle’s third round of Rapid Response Fund funding was released, Partnership for Children knew they had the opportunity to do something different to address their community’s needs. The organization developed a partnership with Wake Forest’s Tri-Area Ministry Food Pantry (TAMFP), which has an extensive history of addressing food insecurity around the Triangle. TAMFP is a community food pantry that typically provides over 800 families each month with groceries, including non-perishables as well as fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat and bread.
Board Chairman Michael Burger explains that COVID-19 has led to an increased demand for their services all around the Triangle. “During COVID, the number of families we serve has jumped by about 50%, so over the course of the past couple of months, we’ve been seeing more like 1,200 families instead of 800.”
Partnership for Children and TAMFP ultimately decided the most effective way of addressing food insecurity in Johnston County was through grocery distribution. TAMFP, with support from the United Way, provided groceries, while Partnership for Children provided outreach and a plethora of volunteers.
The partnership between the two organizations is what made their food distribution initiative a success. Despite TAMFP’s extensive experience fighting food insecurity, they did not have a strong relationship with an organization in Johnston County to help with location and promotion, which is where their partners stepped in. Speaking on their partnership, Michael Burger says that “we didn’t know where the pockets of food insecurity were in Johnston County so [Partnership for Children] helped us to find a good spot that’s centrally located and help us to bring food to distribute that matches the population.”
Partnership for Children and TAMFP have staged two food distributions to great success. In their first outing, the two organizations were able to serve over 65 families facing food insecurity. Karen Mills at Partnership for Children extended the distribution, saying that “…, we had a residential treatment facility for moms and their children that had a lot of positive [COVID-19] tests. We were able to bring groceries and distribute them to the families there since they were kind of stuck at home not able to get out until all their tests came back.”
During their second outing, the distribution was so in demand that the organizations distributed all of the food in about 90 minutes. That trip ultimately provided food, diapers, and other essential goods to more than 100 families.
In addition to their work post-COVID, Partnership for Children serves as the administrator of Johnston County’s Smart Start and NC Pre-K funds, and administrates the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program, which has provided over 7,000 Johnston County children with books since its introduction to the area.
The organization also takes a hands-on approach with local educational organizations by supporting childcare centers with coaching and professional development to improve the quality of instruction. Additionally, the organization runs programs that assist childcare centers with educating children exhibiting challenging behaviors or developmental delays. The Partnership also conducts evidence-based group programming for families as well as specialized programs for foster and adoptive parents, and young mothers.
As the Johnston County community continues to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, Karen Mills understands what has made their work in Johnston County so successful. “Our biggest success, other than supporting families and child care centers when they urgently need it, is the collaborative work of all the agencies in Johnston County & the Triangle to be able to partner together because none of us can do it all. It takes all of us.”
United Way of the Greater Triangle’s Rapid Response Fund is now accepting donations to support Wake, Durham, Orange, and Johnston County residents needing access to food, childcare, and rental assistance now more than ever.
Funds collected will supply funding for Greater Triangle-area nonprofit organizations providing the emergency support listed above. 100% of the funds collected today, and every day, will go back out into the community.
For more information check out https://www.unitedwaytriangle.org/response/
For more information about the Johnston County Partnership for Children check out http://www.partnershipforchildrenjoco.org/
For more information about Tri-Area Ministry Food Pantry check out https://triareaministry.com/