July 8, 2020

By Morgan McQuiston and Russell Sandvold

AmeriCorps and Direct Service Teams Respond to Families Affected by COVID

In late February, Morgan and I (Russell) began our AmeriCorps terms at WithinReach and joined our three other teammates as Client Navigators. Over the course of the next few weeks we trained extensively on the various food, health and child development resources we would be connecting clients with. During this time, we were also following the spread of COVID-19 and heard from our supervisors that the in-person service that we were training for would quickly transition to a remote, tele-service model. By the end of March, we adapted our work in response to COVID-19 and completed our training to begin our service as Client Navigators.

In the wake of COVID-19, the AmeriCorps team experienced first-hand how barriers faced by families are exacerbated by social and racial inequities in our food system, as well as health and financial stressors related to the pandemic. These consequences are unmistakable when looking at the numbers of requests for food and health program assistance our team is responding to.

Following the shelter-in-place order, the number of people contacting WithinReach for help each week doubled. More than 80% of callers requested food assistance. In the months of March through May, our AmeriCorps team alone responded to 478 families experiencing food insecurity and provided food support, services, education and referrals to alleviate long-term hunger. We also responded to 336 families’ requests for healthcare assistance, and provided enrollment support and information on health insurance, services and benefits programs.

As Client Navigators we are now secondary responders to this pandemic and serve in a unique position of damage control and prevention when we interact with our clients. Clients may call us expressing concern about their ability to feed their family or their need for healthcare; and we are there to listen to every story. This can be as small of an act as making sure they feel heard and supported – phone calls can extend well beyond one hour as we do our best to connect families with needed resources.

Food and health insecurity has exploded across the state, demanding immediate response from local and statewide organizations. Local farmers markets, community health clinics and food banks are all reshaping the way they deliver community support as best they can. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services’ transition to non-physical interviews for application processing and the inclusion of COVID-19 community response programs like the Pandemic EBT program are just a few of the community responses that have been established.

Looking forward, nonprofits like WithinReach will continue to innovate our resource delivery and navigator education during this time, as we all know access to food and quality healthcare are important for thriving communities. While these times are frightening, no one should face it alone, and that’s why WithinReach is ready and committed to helping families find the resources and services they need to be healthy and safe.

Morgan McQuiston, WithinReach AmeriCorps Member and Client Navigator

Russell Sandvold, WithinReach AmeriCorps Member and Client Navigator