Financial crisis impact on real people
November 16th, 2008So much has been in the media about the financial meltdown and its impact on companies, financial services firms and businesses around the globe. Now we are seeing the stark reality of the harsh impact on people in our community including people who never had to ask for help before! I told our Board this past Friday that I am more accustomed in how to deal in troubled times than good times.
Back in 1982, I was the Planning Division Director at the United Way of Kent County as it was known back then. Workers were losing their jobs in the auto industry and related industries by the droves, unemployment rates were in the double digits, and Michigan was suffering mightily. Grand Rapids was not immune - not by a long shot. We were requested to create an emergency food distribution program called the "Care and Share" food program. This was in the days prior to personal computers to help us collect information and everything was done with paper and pencil. Gleaners had just been created in our community now known as Second Harvest Gleaners and a system was in place called the Information and Referral Program now known as 211 to help connect people to needed services.
As I was staring at a huge pile of donated can goods back then at Gleaners located in a warehouse on Grandville S.W. not too far down the road from our new home, I was struck by the magnitude of the job before the group of people charged with designing this program. And quite a program was created! Each week a family of four would receive a box of food at various distribution locations around the area and the contents of the box were designed to supplement their food supply. I know that likely this ended up being the only food each family would have each week and it was not enough! We tried hard to secure fresh foods and nutritious foods each and every week . It was a hard time and it took its toll on so many people. It was beyond sad. Interestingly, FEMA asked the system of United Ways across the country to convene key groups to distribute funding directed to emergency food, clothing, shelter and utility assistance. After a few years, I was disturbed by the fact that it seemed that we were institutionalizing "emergency services" which meant it was becoming the norm versus a safety net.
Also back then, Ev Vermeer was the Director of the Kent County Department of Social Services now the Department of Human Services (DHS). Ev and other public and nonprofit leaders created the Emergency Needs Task Force in 1982 with specific subcommittees created to address housing, food assistance/distribution, and other basic critical human need oriented services. I was at the table and this was new territory for all of us.
The system has worked well and is still in operation today now titled the Essential Needs Task Force headed by a former DHS leader, David Schroeder. It is housed at the Heart of West Michigan United Way where it has resided for many years. The above link is worth a look if you care about how to respond to the current crisis and the people who are suffering more than ever before in the tsunami of this recession.
Now it is 2008 and we are not sitting in our new home unaware or unfeeling about what is happening. In fact, owning this building is a visible stake and belief in our community for the future as we still need to build for the future! Owning our own building is projected to save us nearly $650,000 over the next ten years - money needed in our community!
I strongly recommend that for those people who have the ability to give to remember those who need basic services - food, clothing, shelter, transportation, utility assistance. We are working with many funders and agencies in our community to address the severity of this economic downturn on real people. In fact this is a time to remember all the nonprofit organizations you care about as the downturn is negatively affecting our nonprofit sector and they need your support so there is a future for this sector.
That is why we are so concerned about keeping our purchasing power paramount so we do what we are in the business to do . . . address the key needs and concerns in our community. Philanthropy is needed now more than ever and I know that this community will rise up and meet the challenge just like we did in 1982 - - - - just like we did in the early 1990's - - - - just like we have done in this decade which has seen the continual erosion of the quality of life for many of the most vulnerable in our community.