Providing Emergency Assistance During the COVID-19 Pandemic
My name is Deborah Kennedy, and I am the Executive Director of the Family Support Organization of Burlington County. While our work has focused historically on providing peer support, education and advocacy for families raising children having behavioral, emotional, and mental health needs, developmental disabilities, substance use disorder or juvenile justice involvement, we have been working to fill in the gaps of needed essentials for families in the face of the pandemic.
Our team has worked to address food insecurity in Burlington County. There are food pantries that do fill a need, but often cannot accommodate special dietary needs or offer fresh produce and meat. Many residents simply do not have reliable transportation to pick up food from a pantry. We have several clients, including a young child with juvenile diabetes and a senior whose mobility is limited by necessary medical equipment. We were able to fill our pantry with fresh, wholesome food to meet their dietary needs. We also delivered food to clients who could not visit our pantry.
Many families lost employment and income due to COVID, and their unemployment benefits did not start right away. One family with two children filed for unemployment, then waited for months to receive benefits. We were able to provide food and gift cards to help keep them afloat.
Another family, a single mother and son, both with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, lost their housing after support services and schools transitioned to a virtual format. The child with autism began to exhibit violent behavior and they were no longer able to stay where they were because of concern about the potential risk to other children at the residence. The mother and her son ended up living in her car during the winter months. Our team was able to secure a motel room for a couple of nights while we worked with them to find more permanent housing.
In addition, we helped a resident confined to a wheelchair who lost her husband to cancer. She is raising their teen daughter, who has received the same cancer diagnosis as her father did. They did not have access to a computer or to the internet to schedule telehealth doctor and therapist appointments. We were able to provide an iPad and internet access to the family.
As the Family Support Organization, we have many connections with our community. By working in partnership with school administrators, local law enforcement, faith-based organizations and service providers, we could identify Burlington County residents who were in need due to the pandemic and connect them with available resources. The support from New Jersey Health Initiatives was greatly needed and helped many families make it through this very difficult time.