As area residents hunker down at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, local nonprofit organizations are suffering as fundraisers and donation drives are being canceled, and thrift shops that bring in much-needed revenue are being shuttered. Volunteers are being shut out from organizations to prevent infection, leaving staff to provide services to people in need as best they can.
But there are still plenty of ways people can help. We spoke with several local nonprofits about how the pandemic is affecting them and what their greatest needs are right now.
While many Americans are putting their usual daily activities on hold, trauma isn't taking a break, and maintaining an adequate blood supply is as critical as ever.
But, like other blood centers across the nation, Blood Assurance is experiencing a severe decline in blood donations as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.
"A lot of businesses are switching to essential operations only, which doesn't include blood drives," said Caitlyn Mantooth, marketing coordinator for Blood Assurance.
The organization has already lost an estimated 1,000 units of donated blood because of blood drive cancellations, she said.
"We just want people to know it's OK to donate blood right now," said Mantooth, adding that there has never been a case of COVID-19 transmission through blood donation or transfusion.
During the pandemic, Blood Assurance is putting extra cleaning protocols in place and following federal Food and Drug Administration guidelines, such as how far apart donors must be from one another. Staff members are also checking donors for COVID-19 symptoms, and asking people who have traveled to certain areas not to give, she said.
Some local Blood Assurance centers, such as those in Dalton, Georgia, and Hixson, are extending their hours in an effort to collect more donations. Partners such as the city of Chattanooga are stepping up to host drives, even though their offices are closed, said Mantooth.
She asks that healthy people who are home and have time to donate make an appointment at their local Blood Assurance center. They can also visit the city of Chattanooga's drive at 101 E. 11th St. March 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"We definitely need help," said Mantooth. "Without blood donors, there's no blood for people in hospitals."
Northside Neighborhood House
Northside Neighborhood House, which provides support for basic needs and education to people in need living north of the river, is now seeing clients virtually rather than in person, said CEO Rachel Gammon. Through its Emergency Direct Assistance program, Northside Neighborhood House helps clients with utility bills, food and prescription costs.
"We've definitely seen an uptick in food requests," she said of the days since the coronavirus pandemic began to disrupt life here.
Coffee Community Collective, the organization's satellite office in Soddy-Daisy, is serving a food distribution site while children are out of school.
With utilities such as EPB are currently suspending disconnect notices and late fees, helping clients cover those costs has not been an issue yet, but Gammon said she does expect an increased push for utility assistance a few weeks from now.
The organization decided to close its three thrift stores beginning March 18. The stores help Northside Neighborhood House provide services by bringing in about $15,000-$25,000 a week, she said.
To help make up for that revenue, the organization will be selling goods online through social media.
While Gammon said she felt closing the stores was the socially responsible thing to do, she regrets that the closures will deprive people in the community of the social connections they provide to regular, often elderly customers.
"For many people it's a central place to connect with their neighbors and feel valued," she said.
The organization isn't hurting for thrift store donations, as many people are using the additional time they have at home to clean out unwanted items. Northside Neighborhood House is requesting donations of pantry staples to help stock its food pantry for families who may not be able to reach other food access points, as well as monetary donations, said Gammon.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga
Coping with having a sick child is never easy, but it's especially difficult in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
"For Ronald McDonald House parents and others with hospitalized children, it is particularly difficult because they are torn between needing to be with their child and trying to comply with the daily dynamic situations as they develop," said Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga President and CEO Jane Kaylor. "I know they are worried about their medical caregivers who are giving 110% at this point. How will the demand on the healthcare system affect their child?"
To reduce the possibility of infection, the local house was closed to volunteers starting March 16.
Erlanger Hospital has also closed the Ronald McDonald Family Room, which provides families with children at the hospital with a place to shower, watch TV, eat and do laundry.
The house is following Erlanger's visitation and screening guidelines, limiting its residents to the two members of each family who are approved to visit and care for their hospitalized child.
"Financial support is always needed and perhaps more so in light of fundraising events and activities that have also been suspended," Kaylor said of how the community can help RMHC during the pandemic.
Since families won't have teams of volunteers cooking dinner for them at the house as usual, the house is requesting donations of foods that can easily be prepared by staff such as boxed meals, canned chicken and soups, pasta and sauce, and items from the house's updated wish list. People can also make a monetary donation to help provide meals.
The organization's guidelines prohibit prepared foods unless cooked in a commercial kitchen, but the house welcomes donations of restaurant-prepared meals, said Kaylor.
Humane Educational Society
The Humane Educational Society is continuing to provide essential services to Hamilton County, including animal control and protection, during the pandemic. People can still adopt and surrender pets, but they are required to make an appointment to protect the health of staff, volunteers and the community. The society is also limiting the number of people in each party to one or two, if possible.
Adoption counselors are "trying to do some matchmaking" to assist potential adopters in the process, said Executive Director Phil Snyder, by determining what qualities the adopter is looking for and matching them with a few pets with those qualities to meet during their appointment.
He said adoption interviews are now being conducted partially by phone. Meetings with adoptable pets are being done in a way that limits adopters' contact with animal care staff as much as possible in order to keep staff members healthy and able to continue providing services.
The Humane Educational Society Thrift & Boutique Store is remaining open Monday through Saturday. The store, along with merchandise, is thoroughly cleaned for the health and safety of customers, according to a release.
The postponement until September of the organization's largest annual fundraiser, Rescues on the Runway, will cause HES serious financial strain. The event typically brings in around $100,000, said Snyder.
"It's a major blow to our operating budget," he said of the event's postponement, adding that the organization's golf fundraiser scheduled for this June is also in jeopardy of being postponed. "We rely on individual donations, which right now is tough for some people to do."
Those who are able to help can make a donation at heschatt.org.
United Way of Greater Chattanooga
Since a large part of the work United Way and its partner agencies do is human contact-oriented, the organization and its partners are coming up with innovative approaches to continue providing services to the community.
Representatives of United Way, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton County Schools and nonprofits such as YMCA and We Over Me are participating in daily task force conference calls to discuss how to best coordinate their efforts to respond to needs in the community that are changing hour by hour, said United Way of Greater Chattanooga Vice President of Communications Stephen Van Gorp.
"The biggest shifting thing is the capacity of need and how we meet that need," he said.
The organization also established the Restore Hope Fund to help nonprofit agencies in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia meet heightened needs and expand operations related to the COVID-19 community crisis. The fund will continue on a long-term basis, focusing on meeting basic needs in times of crisis through United Way nonprofit partners. The fund just received its first significant donation from the Maclellan Foundation, said Lesley Scearce, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Chattanooga.
To make a donation to the fund, visit unitedwaycha.org/covid19/give-help or text RestoreHope to 40403.