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Emergency Task Force: Feeding our Kids and Families, Ep. 3 of Around Our Home Podcast

Emergency Task Force: Feeding our Kids and Families, Ep. 3 of Around Our Home Podcast

Christine Nikolich:
Welcome to Around Our Home, a show about the impact Mercy Home for Boys and Girls has on kids and families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode, you’ll hear informative interviews as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier, healthier version of yourself. This is Around Our Home. I’m Christine Nikolich. My guests today are three coworkers who have been instrumental in our Emergency Task Force Initiative. When COVID-19 hit Mercy Home acted immediately and made sure we were taking the correct steps to provide basic necessities for our kids and families. Today the task force is still working hard to ensure our kids and families get food every week. My first guest is Patrick Needham, who works as the Director of Planning and Evaluation at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. In his role, he is focused on using measurement and evaluation to improve the agency’s work with young people and their families. With this new initiative, Patrick coordinates with youth care workers, therapists, and program managers to figure out which families need the support, where they live and creates a list to give to other members of the task force who complete the deliveries.

Christine Nikolich:
Hey Patrick, how’s it going?

– Good. How are you Christine?

Christine Nikolich:
Doing well. Thanks for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Patrick Needham:
Yeah, of course.

Christine Nikolich:
Can you tell me how Mercy Home is helping our kids families during this pandemic and what’s your role in that?

Patrick Needham:
Yeah, this has been a really hard time for a lot of people and especially for a lot of our kids and families who already had a lot of stressors and difficulties in their lives. So when this all started, Father Scott talked to me about creating sort of what we’re calling a Compassionate Care Program to help families out with some of their more immediate needs. So things like food, groceries, gift cards things like that that were really impacted by the pandemic and by people losing their jobs and all the things associated with it. So we’ve been doing a lot of work to get food out to people. We’ve also been helping people with things like internet bills, because a lot of kids are now having to do e-learning and they needed better internet in their homes.

Christine Nikolich:
How did we choose who to give like internet services to?

Patrick Needham:
Yeah, so what we did when this all first sort of happened was I worked with a lot of the managers in our different program areas, in the residential area and mentoring area and our aftercare team to basically just do a needs assessment. So I said, hey you know, with all your families and your kids that you’ve got right now, who, you know, who’s in need right now and what do they need. So a lot of our great co-workers got back to us, talking about, you know, this family needs a lot of help with food, this family’s okay with food, but they realized they need internet help cause they didn’t have a strong enough signal to do the E-learning software. So we just kind of worked off a master list like that, and then worked with Father Scott and some other leaders at Mercy Home to just come up with a plan for how to get them all the stuff. So we have a lot of great people working on this. We’ve really just relied on the staff and our coworkers who know the families really well to just let us know who’s in need and what they need help with.

Christine Nikolich:
How fast did we react to the crisis once this all happened? Like how quickly did we implement this task force?

Patrick Needham:
Yeah, it all happened pretty quickly. The date that sort of sticks in my head was March 17th as the date when things got really serious in Illinois with this. And so we had this up and running by March 31st was the day that we first started doing a couple of food drop-offs to families that were in need. And it was a little bit slow at first, but we’ve really ramped up to the point now I think we have 170 families that we’re supporting one way or the other

Christine Nikolich:
That’s so quick, it’s like within a week, which is amazing. Can you explain the process you go through from coordinating with program to serving our families and kids?

Patrick Needham:
Yeah, so it’s about 170 families that we’ve got right now. And one thing that has been great is that we have extended all of the support to the whole family. Our kids who actually live in our residential programs are sort of like our course or like, you know, constituents and the closest relationship with them, but we’ve offered this to their whole households now. We worked with our fundraising team to make sure we had some resources to be able to purchase some groceries where we needed. We connected with a lot of our corporate partners and actually got a ton of food donations. And then we just basically set up a system. So every week we rotate through some of the families, make sure that they’re receiving what they need, whether that’s just a gift card or actual food or internet support on a monthly basis. We’re also helping some folks with benefits enrollments. So some of the state and federal government have responded to this crisis with some increased benefits that are available, like through the snap program or unemployment, and so we’ve been helping make sure that people know how to enroll in those and get access to all of the sort of benefits that they’re entitled to, with everything going on.

Christine Nikolich:
And how did you choose the kids and families that we help? Did program kind of tell you who needed the most help or how did that process work?

Patrick Needham:
Yeah, exactly.So it’s all just basically about communication with the therapist or the program managers who know the families best. And one thing that’s been interesting, but you know, also kind of sad in a way is that the longer that this crisis goes on the more families that we’ve needed to support with this sort of thing, because as this has dragged on, I think more families are experiencing some loss of employment or loss of some of their income or they’re actually getting sick. Someone in their family is getting sick as this goes on. And so, you know, we started off, I think with in week one about 90 families that we were supporting in some way with this. And like I said, by now we’re up to about 170 families.

Christine Nikolich:
Well, yeah, that’s almost doubled. And do you see that increasing as time goes on?

Patrick Needham:
Yeah, I would say at this point we’re adding about five or 10 families a week. Again, these are families that were already involved in Mercy Homes community in one way or the other.

Christine Nikolich:
How often do coworkers at Mercy Home meet about this initiative and how has it changed since its implementation?

Patrick Needham:
Yeah, we’re I mean I’m communicating with somebody pretty much every day about this. And then I meet with some of our other leaders members, you know, once a week just to kind of give a status update on how it’s going troubleshoot anything that’s come up in the past week or to discuss new needs that are arising. Like, for example, what I mentioned earlier about the internet support was not something that we originally kind of thought would be part of this process. And it wasn’t until all the kids you know, were at home because of the schools being closed that we realized how hard it was for a lot of our families to engage in the E-learning requirements, which essentially require you to have like a certain internet connection so that you can stream the content and video chat with your teachers and all that sort of stuff. So that was something where we kind of reacted to what the families were telling us. And since we’re meeting a lot about this, we were able to figure out something quickly.

Christine Nikolich:
What happens if our families are out of delivery range for the food deliveries?

Patrick Needham:
Yeah, we’ve been able to send electronic gift cards to those folks. So we have done a pretty wide delivery range. We’ve gone as far as like Elgin and Joliet in Northwest Indiana through our Dropbox, but we have some folks that are even further away and a lot of our aftercare members are in college and they’re either downstate or, you know, we even have one young man in Colorado. So we’re able to send gift cards electronically through a lot of the major retailers you can log on and just make an account and send an electronic gift card. So even though they’re not in our geographical area we can still support them.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s amazing. How long do you think this initiative will be implemented into Mercy Home’s daily practice?

Patrick Needham:
That’s a really good question and I think since, you know, there’s a lot of uncertainty about this whole crisis in general. I think we’re sort of taking it week by week for right now and kind of waiting to see how this plays out in society in general. But I think we’re certainly open to doing this for several more months, at least, and just, you know, continuing to monitor, you know, what the needs of the families are and how things shake out in general with the virus.

Christine Nikolich:
Thanks much for taking the time to talk to me. I think it’s really great what you guys are doing, and I really appreciate you being a part of this task force and shifting your role for the time being help our kids and families.

Patrick Needham:
Thanks, that’s my pleasure.

Christine Nikolich:
My next guest is Juan Medina, as Manager of Community Partnerships and Marketing, Juan plays a big role in our admissions department and is the first point of contact for our kids before they become residents at Mercy Home. When the emergency task force was implemented, Juan immediately jumped in to help and is now making the deliveries that directly impact our kids and families. Hi Juan, how’s it going? Thanks for joining me today.

Juan Medina:
Hey Christine, how are you doing? Thanks for having me on.

Christine Nikolich:
I’m doing well. What’s it like delivering food to the families?

Juan Medina:
You know, that’s been really a cool part of this initiative that, you know, Mercy Home has been able to obviously respond to the need, but also being able to connect with families. Sometimes when I talk to the youth even though I may not be the person that’s been working with them, you know, it brings a smile to their face because it’s someone from Mercy Home that kinda knows them and is still connected with them. So they’re and incredibly appreciative.

Christine Nikolich:
That kind of leads into my next question. How has this initiative impacted our kids and families?

Juan Medina:
Yeah, that’s a, you know it’s a really good question early on it was, we were delivering and, you know, it was just kind of taking a pulse of how things were going as time went on. You know, we began to hear about people being infected and certainly that was the case with our families. And then also, you know, as families begin to lose their jobs and talking with a couple of moms, you know, and they relaying that they’ve been laid off as a result of, you know, their restaurant being closed. So seeing the real impact, you know, kind of the global impact and then localizing, it gave me a glimpse of, you know, what was happening at a micro level. The same thing for actually one of our young men that I was working with in one of our Transitional Living Programs, he was doing phenomenal. Went back, went into his own apartment was living independently, working and all of a sudden COVID-19 hits and, you know, within two or three weeks, he lost his job and he’s still looking for one. So the pain that our families experience is real.

Christine Nikolich:
I’m sure that the work that you are doing with the Compassionate Care Task Force is really helping them at least get by, which is great

Juan Medina:
You know and some of our partners have really stepped up. Like for example Catholic Charities has provided some support with food and also they do have access to some organizations, some governmental agencies that do provide rental assistance. So some of our families have been able to access that support, that resource.

Christine Nikolich:
How did you get involved with Catholic Charities?

Juan Medina:
We have a collective that’s called Community Partners Collective and Catholic charities is part of that. So when the pandemic hit and we knew that nutritional support was something that our families needed, I ended up talking to a good colleague and friend of mine, Andrew Gutierrez. And I explained the situation regarding our families and youth and really without asking any other question, he was like, yes, absolutely we can help, we can support. You know, how many families do you need?

Christine Nikolich:
And are they continuing to support us throughout this initiative?

Juan Medina:
Yes, you know what, so Father Scott Downey our CEO and Catholic Donahue the interim CEO at the time also got connected on this and her commitment was that this would be indefinite as long as we needed this level of support. They were in, they were all in. So.

Christine Nikolich:
What are ways you’ve been connecting with families during this time?

Juan Medina:
So one of the other ways that I get connected with families is by providing teletherapy. So I’ve been working with a couple of families as you know at least in my own experience, you know, being shelter in place sometimes it could get a little claustrophobic and you don’t have any outlets. So one of the ways that we’re also supporting families is providing some providing therapy. So I am working with a couple of families to, you know, to work with them on, you know, setting up structure. When things get really stressful is how to work with, you know, a mom or a parent or a guardian to do maybe some stress mindfulness activities to help them get re-center, get their energy back and then get back in, you know, to doing the parenting work that needs to be done, you know, providing structure, providing care. And that’s like I said, there’s other coworkers that are providing that level of support as well.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s an amazing resource for our kids and families. I’m glad we’re providing that, I know therapy right now, especially is so important during this time.

Juan Medina:
Yes, yes.You know, I probably should get my own therapist too.

Christine Nikolich:
Same. Thanks so much for joining me, Juan. And thanks for all you do. And I hope you stay healthy and safe.

Juan Medina:
Thank you, Christine. You do the same.

Christine Nikolich:
My final guest is Mario Tamayo. The Manager of Youth Program Operations. Before the task force was established, Mario was an integral part of making sure our home is clean, safe, and up to code for our kids and staff. Mario’s role completely shifted as COVID-19 hit. He is now helping develop the routes for our deliveries is in charge of making sure all of the food is organized and helps deliver the goods directly to our kids and families. Hey Mario, thanks so much for joining me. How are you doing today?

Mario Tamayo:
Doing well, thank you so much for having me on.

Christine Nikolich:
Of course, so what’s your role in Mercy Home’s emergency response to the needs of our kids and families during the pandemic?

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, so my role is really managing the physical needs of our youth. So what we do is we deliver groceries to our youth that are not in residence anymore. Whatever groceries to our aftercare members and to our friends first, kids and families, and also some admissions kids and families. If we have a youth who transitions out, then we ensure that young person gets all of their belongings back. And then just having important documents signed could be a doctor’s notice, it could be a school record that we need. So it’s really being that extension with our family and with our youth outside of Mercy.

Christine Nikolich:
Oh yeah. You’re doing it all, it sounds like.

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, but the primary focus is really delivering the food, dropping off food weekly.

Christine Nikolich:
How many deliveries do you make to our kids and families per week?

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, so we do 40 to 50 drop-offs per week household size vary. So it could be, you know, one youth who is maybe transitioned out on living independently, or it could be a family of 10 kids, a family of 10 which we certainly have a few of. So I’d say in a week we do 40 to 50 drop-offs and that could be anywhere from 60 to 100 different individuals.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s incredible. The fact that we’re helping that many people is just so great.

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, on a weekly basis, yep.

Christine Nikolich:
And since I’m guessing it takes up most of your week, How has your role changed?

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, I mean the support I provided before was primarily internal. Now it’s really external where you know, we are providing families what they would normally get here at Mercy, but providing that now while they’re at home. So it’s great to see our kids still getting, I mean the basic needs met without having to be here on the site.

Christine Nikolich:
Was it an easy transition for you to kind of change your role?

Mario Tamayo:
It wasn’t necessarily easy, it wasn’t necessarily hard either, but I think once we started getting the hang of it, once we started getting the routes down, then it sort of became second nature. It’s partly given me an appreciation, a huge appreciation for what our families have to go through, you know, a lot of them take public transportation. And so it’s tough sometimes for us to get a specific location. I can just imagine how it is for some of our families that don’t have a car and have to rely on public transportation. So it just gives you a greater appreciation of the struggle that some of our kids and families have had to go through getting that perspective really kind of like opens your eyes to just the fight that our kids have.

Christine Nikolich:
Can you describe your typical day and what being involved in the deliveries look like?

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, you know, a typical day I’ll come in, in the morning. Usually I would have a route, the routes prepared the night before and not just start packing up the boxes. So in a box our families are gonna get pasta, they’re gonna get rice, they’re gonna get breakfast cereal, they’re gonna get canned veggies, canned tuna, canned beans, canned chili. So a box would cost to and apples. You know, we’ll throw some fruit in there as well. And depending on the family size, bigger families, we’ll get a couple of more boxes will then, you know, make sure that name and the address is on the box so that when we’re pulling them out, you know, we don’t have to search around or anything like that. We’ll load up the minivans and then they’re off. Once a week usually on Thursdays or Fridays, I’ll go pick up some groceries over at Cermak Fresh Produce. So I usually email the day before and let our good friends there know, hey, this is what we’re needing. They usually give us a great, great discount because they believe in what we’re doing. And then we’ll just you know, start the day all over again.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s amazing, it sounds like you’re really organized and have a good system in place, which is great. And I’m sure it helps a lot with the deliveries. So what happens with families have COVID, how do you serve them safely?

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, so, you know, right now, and it’s always been this way and it will stay this way is we never come in direct contact with our families, we always remain in the minivan. So I’ll show up to the address and I’ll call the family while I’m in the van. I let them know, Hey, I’m here, I’m with Mercy. I’m about to leave these groceries in your front door, you know, please come on and get them. Usually they come out, we wave at each other. If they have any questions, you know, I have them on the phone. So they’ll ask me over the phone, we’re always in the van and we never come in contact with any families.

Christine Nikolich:
Where does the food come from?

Mario Tamayo:
Catholic Charities gives us 30 to 50 bags every other week. And so that takes care of a lot of families. Barilla Pasta they gave us about 3000 pounds of pasta and pasta sauce.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s so amazing.

Mario Tamayo:
They gave us a large donation in April. And recently this month, a couple of weeks ago, they sent another palette of a spaghetti and you know, all kinds of good stuff there with the pasta. Butch McGuires, they’ve been great since the first week they’ve dropped off bread. Yeah, they’ve donated a lot too, and they’ve been consistently donating as well. The greater Chicago and North West Indiana Girl Scout Troop gave us four pallets of cookies. It was great, our kids loved those. The owners over at Blue Plate Catering, they’ve been dropping off weekly, so they’ll drop off about seven to eight bags of food a week. And then we’ve also had some individuals dropping off here and there. The Laban foundation made a great donation. We have not had an issue since we started where we ran out of food or didn’t have food to deliver.

Christine Nikolich:
That’s incredible, it’s so great to hear so many organizations and companies and individuals just taking the initiative to help out. I’m just, I’m so grateful to hear that.

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, Chicago Beyond, another one that gives us anywhere from 48 to a hundred boxes of a food, and those boxes contain basically what we would give our families. So Chicago Beyond has also been really good to us.

Christine Nikolich:
If people are listening wanna donate, how can they donate?

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, they can donate, you know, obviously by going online and donating money at mercyhome.org and we’ll use that to buy groceries or they can drop off groceries at 1100 West Jackson behind the building any time on Monday and Tuesday between 9:00 AM and 12:00 PM.

Christine Nikolich:
How has delivering food and other items impacted our kids and families?

Mario Tamayo:
I think it’s helped them to focus on other things because when you take their mind off of how am I going to be groceries, what am I gonna eat. When you answer that question, when you fill that need, they can then focus on keeping safe. You know, maybe for some finding work maybe for others being able to jump online and do work because they know that their kids ate that day. Just knowing that, hey, we have food here and that’s going to last us for, you know, one or two weeks that then can take away the stress or frustration that you know they would normally feel if it wasn’t there. And I think it’s just a feeling of knowing, hey, times are tough but if this has been provided for then we’re gonna be okay. I feel like it’s a sense of hope. I think in a lot of ways this initiative is just helping our families, you know, emotionally, obviously, physically. And then I think just peace of mind, you know, just mentally

Christine Nikolich:
That’s so true, I didn’t even think about it just like relieving stress. Well, thank you so much for joining me, Mario. This is so interesting to learn more about and just thank you for doing your part in this initiative. I’m just really grateful for the work you’re doing.

Mario Tamayo:
Yeah, thank you and thank you for all you’re doing. We really appreciate that you’re getting the word out. So thank you for everything you’re doing.

Christine Nikolich:
Thanks for listening to Around Our Home. Special thanks to our guests, Patrick Needham, Juan Medina, and Mario Tamayo for all of the hard work they’re doing on Mercy Homes Emergency Response Initiative, be sure to visit mercyhome.org/podcast, to join the conversation, access the show notes and read more about what’s going on around our home, on our blog. Don’t forget to follow us on social media, by searching @mercyhome. If you have any questions, please email us at info@mercyhome.org please like, subscribe and share this podcast with your colleagues, friends, and family. Mercy Home for boys and girls is a solution for kids in crisis. And we hope this podcast will motivate you to support our mission. My name is Christine Nikolich, and this is Around Our Home.

Welcome to Around Our Home Podcast, a show about the impact Mercy Home for Boys & Girls has on kids and families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode you’ll hear informative interviews, as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier, healthier version of yourself.

#3 – Emergency Task Force: Feeding our Kids and Families

In this episode, Christine Nikolich interviews three coworkers who have been instrumental in our emergency task force initiative. Our Director of Planning & Evaluation Patrick Needham, our Manager of Community Partnerships & Marketing Juan Medina, and Mario Tamayo, the Manager of Youth Program Operations. When COVID-19 hit, Mercy Home acted immediately and made sure we were taking the correct steps to provide basic necessities for our kids and families. Today, the task force is still working hard and playing a vital role in making sure our kids and families get food and the care they need every week. There are plenty of ways to help the task force, including donating non-perishable food items at Mercy Home’s drop-off site, located behind 1100 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago. We’ll be accepting donations on Mondays and Tuesdays between 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. You can also make a donation.

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