Counting on NAM
In every moment of the COVID-19 crisis, our community has looked to NAM. Thanks to your support, NAM has responded in ways that no other organization can.
For nearly two years, we have been living in a global pandemic. COVID-19’s impact has been far-reaching, affecting our health, families, employment, finances, social interactions, and more. But through it all, NAM has been a lifeline to thousands of neighbors in our community.
Your support has fed tens of thousands of your neighbors, saved thousands of families from eviction, protected seniors and victims of domestic violence, continued adult education, and cared for children’s health. You have provided help and hope to sustain our community in a long journey—one that’s not over yet.
Here is a look at our story so far…
COVID-19 Arrives in Houston
On March 4, 2020, a man from Fort Bend County became the first positive case of COVID-19 in the Houston area. By March 24, the City of Houston and Harris County issued stay-at-home orders that would last for more than a month.
Life as we knew it came to a screeching halt. Everyone was required to stay home except for vital errands like getting food or medicine. Only businesses deemed “essential” were allowed to remain open—including NAM.
The following Monday when staff arrived at NAM, there were nearly 200 neighbors waiting for the doors to open. Many had never applied for any type of assistance before. But their income had vanished. Grocery store shelves were bare. Schools were closed and they had no childcare. There was an overwhelming fear about how they would feed their families and keep a roof over their heads.
Between March 7, 2020 and February 13, 2021, nearly 910,000 residents of the greater Houston area filed for unemployment. Not surprisingly, the loss of income had devastating consequences for families in terms of their ability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing.
Throughout the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau conducted Pulse surveys to assess the needs of major metropolitan areas. In 10 of 25 surveys, the Houston Metro Area reported the highest levels of food insecurity of any major metropolitan area in the United States. Likewise, Houston ranked among the top three cities nationwide for evictions filed during the pandemic.
Both were areas where NAM made a massive impact.
Feeding Thousands of Neighbors
The week before stay-at-home orders began, by God’s grace, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints delivered a semi-truck full of food to NAM. Because of that donation, NAM was able to provide food to hundreds of families who were in critical need.
In the weeks that followed, the need for food continued to grow. So from August to November 2020, in partnership with the Houston Food Bank, NAM held a series of Super Site Food Distributions twice a month.
The drive-through distributions at Spring ISD’s Planet Ford Stadium or the EcoPark at George Bush Intercontinental Airport allowed people to safely remain in their cars while volunteers loaded 70 pounds of groceries into their trunk—fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, and non-perishables. Cars were lined up for miles. By the end of these half day events, each one served an average of 1,500 to 2,500 families.
“We had to do something big because the need was so big,” says Brian Carr, Chief Advancement Officer for NAM. “Our volunteers were incredible,” he adds. “There were parents and teenagers who never slowed down. They never complained even as they were serving out in the heat for hours.”
Those large food distributions were in addition to the daily operations of the Joanne Watford Nutrition Center (JWNC) at NAM, which provides groceries to neighbors in need year-round. At the height of the pandemic, the JWNC was serving up to 120 families a day. Normally guests would walk the aisles and choose their own items, but during the pandemic that model changed to contactless pick-up for everyone’s safety. Large distributions continue to be held on a quarterly basis in NAM’s parking lot, serving hundreds of families each time.
In the past two fiscal years, NAM has provided food for tens of thousands of individuals and families who received food through the Super Site Food Distributions. Another 3,200 families received holiday meals in 2020 or 2021, including a turkey and all the trimmings at Thanksgiving and again in December.
When businesses were forced to close during the stay-at-home orders, thousands of neighbors were suddenly out of work. Some of their jobs never returned, and the options for new employment were limited. With no income, many families had no way to pay their largest monthly expense: housing.
NAM accepted applications for rental or mortgage assistance every Monday. And for more than three months in 2020, there was a line of hundreds of people surrounding NAM’s building every Monday.
People started coming on Sunday evening, waiting all night to be sure they had a spot in line. Out of concern for their well-being, NAM hired police officers to come at midnight on Sunday and hand out numbers, 1 through 100, which would guarantee an interview the following day.
“People were in a panic because they thought they were going to be out on the streets,” says Karen Weakly, director of Assistance at NAM. “It wasn’t just concern about the virus. It was, ‘If I survive not getting the virus, how will I make it through the next day?’ That was real. It is real. It was on our shoulders to lighten that burden.”
By May of 2020, NAM moved to an online application process which continues to this day. Clients complete their application online, from which 200 are randomly selected each month for consideration.
NAM has also connected clients to other significant services, such as attorneys for help with evictions, benefits like food stamps and Medicaid, and a variety of options for COVID vaccines and testing.
In April 2021, Harris County and the City of Houston launched the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), and asked NAM to serve as a Navigator Organization. Designed to help tenants who are at least 3 months behind on their rent due to COVID-19, the program helps prevent evictions by paying all of a family’s overdue rent and up to one month forward. Funds go directly to the landlord.
Through ERAP, NAM employed an additional six case managers whose sole responsibility was to reach out to the community, find neighbors who qualified for the assistance, and help them file an application. For this program alone, case managers typically screened about 500 clients each month.
Since the start of the pandemic, NAM has provided $2.4 million in rental assistance to families in our community, protecting approximately 4,700 people from being evicted. Another 1,945 eligible clients received help from NAM in completing applications for ERAP funding.
At High Risk: NAM’s Seniors
In early March 2020, Grace Jackson, director of Senior Services for NAM, was called to a mandatory providers meeting at the Area Agency on Aging. At the time there was only one case of coronavirus in the Houston area. But then, like a roller coaster speeding downhill, everything changed.
Within two weeks, NAM’s Meals on Wheels program shifted to delivering 10-day packs of shelf-stable meals in order to minimize exposure between seniors and the volunteers who deliver their food. A few weeks later they adapted again, to weekly deliveries of frozen meals. That model continues to this day.
The Young at Heart Senior Center and 60+ Café were closed immediately. Clients who relied on the 60+ Café for food were transferred to home deliveries through Meals on Wheels. At the same time, calls began pouring in from seniors throughout the community, asking to enroll in Meals on Wheels for the first time.
By the end of April 2020, NAM was delivering Meals on Wheels to 925 seniors every week.
For NAM’s Young at Heart seniors, loneliness and isolation quickly set in—so the staff got creative. They shifted activities like Bingo, exercise, and educational seminars to Zoom, offering a virtual way for seniors to connect. With a little coaching, seniors found this new technology was not so difficult after all.
After 14 months of being closed due to COVID-19, Young at Heart reopened on June 1, 2021. A huge banner welcomed everyone back, as laughter and conversation filled the space. Numerous safety measures had been implemented, and the staff’s hardest job was reminding seniors not to hug each another.
As wonderful as it was to see everyone, the heartbreaking piece was the noticeable decline and frailty of many seniors. Isolation and lack of exercise had taken a significant toll.
“We could visibly see the difference,” says Grace. “When you’re at home, you’re isolated, you’re not exercising—we could visibly see the aging process occur.” It was a clear message of just how important NAM’s services are, to help seniors stay healthy, active, and independent.
After two wonderful months together, Young at Heart had to close again at the end of July 2021 due to the Delta variant and rising numbers of COVID-19. Staff resumed virtual programming, including Bingo, coffee and conversation, exercise class, French lessons, and nutrition workshops—all on Zoom. The staff also call each senior every day, to check in and keep people connected.
Likewise, NAM’s Meals on Wheels staff make roughly 900 phone calls every day to check on the seniors in their program. They call to check in, to listen, to offer updates when needed, and simply to reassure seniors that they are loved and not forgotten.
“Going back into isolation mode is pretty hard for everybody—staff as well as seniors,” says Eva Galloway, social services supervisor for Young at Heart. “But we’re in it for the long haul. We do whatever is necessary to keep our seniors connected and keep their spirits up. It’s an encouragement to us to encourage them.”
When Staying Home Isn’t Safe
As the stay-at-home order went into effect, the media began to report an increase in domestic violence. Sheryl Johnson and her team at NAM’s Family Violence Center (FVC) were hearing those stories firsthand.
“Isolation exaggerates any abuse that might have been taking place previously,” says Sheryl. Long-term clients stopped calling the FVC, knowing their conversation might be overheard at home. Transportation became an issue as abusers controlled access to the car, or public transportation felt risky because of the virus. Others couldn’t get a protective order or divorce because the courts were closed. And safety measures for children—teachers and doctors who are required to report abuse—were no longer in place.
Adding to the complexity was the fact that many shelters stopped taking new clients. They didn’t want new people introducing the virus to their staff or residents, and needed extra space for social distancing.
As a result, the FVC had an increase in the number of emergency shelter nights it provided at its safe hotel. Normally, the FVC would use the hotel once or twice a month. But during the early days of the pandemic they averaged between one and seven rooms every night for multiple weeks. For the first time in her career, Sheryl kept 10-day packs of food in her car, ready to deliver whenever a new client checked in.
On the Front Lines
As other doctors’ offices closed their doors at the start of the pandemic, the Pediatric Health Center (PHC) at NAM became one of the few places that families in crisis could bring their children for medical care.
Staff of the PHC had been monitoring news about the virus before it even made it to Houston, ordering personal protective equipment and test kits for COVID-19, implementing a mandatory mask policy for staff and patients, and hanging posters in their exam rooms and NAM’s lobby about hand washing.
“We are constantly on high alert here,” says Karen Luther, director of the PHC.
Thanks to their partnership with Houston Methodist, the entire PHC staff was able to be vaccinated early, beginning in December 2020. Houston Methodist and UT Health also keep the PHC continually updated on current research and best practices.
In addition to the virus itself, the PHC saw an increase in children and teens with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Some were worried because their parents had lost jobs; others were worn down by the isolation of the pandemic. Thankfully, the PHC was able to support them through their contract psychiatrist and NAM’s new behavioral health program.
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretched into its second year, staff of the PHC remained on the front lines. In 2020, 3% of all COVID-19 patients were children; in 2021 that number jumped to 27%. In August, 2021, the PHC had 12 children test positive—more than they had in all of 2020. (Would you like me to get more recent numbers from Karen for positive tests from the Omicron variant?)
Despite the pandemic, the PHC has continued to meet everyday health needs of roughly 1,800 children each year.
Just as schools across the country made an abrupt switch to online lessons, so did the Learning & Vocational Training Center at NAM. Dozens of adults had been enrolled in classes including English as a Second Language (ESL), GED preparation, and vocational training.
The Learning Center paused its classes at the start of the pandemic, but resumed online in about two weeks. Today, some classes continue to be offered in a fully virtual format, while others are a hybrid of online and in-person learning.
The shift has been a struggle for some. An estimated 40 to 50 percent of new students at the Learning Center lack basic computer skills, such as logging on to a Zoom call or attaching a document to an email. But as NAM staff patiently walk them through those obstacles, a world of opportunity opens up.
Your Neighborhood NAM Resale
2020 caused businesses across the country to rethink their operations, and NAM Resale was no exception.
In compliance with the stay-at-home orders, NAM Resale closed its doors in late March of 2020. Resale staff were deployed to the Joanne Watford Nutrition Center and Centralized Intake, to help those programs meet the tremendous needs of the community.
By June, NAM’s resale stores reopened on a limited basis. But after only a month, the county asked non-essential businesses to close again because of a spike in COVID-19 cases.
At that point, tough decisions had to be made. With wisdom and innovation, NAM’s Board of Trustees and staff leadership came up with a new plan for NAM Resale: focus on selling to other resellers, serving NAM’s clients, and selling to the public through the NAM Resale Boutique and online.
By 2021, NAM Resale was ready to adapt again. The warehouse showroom initially welcomed customers by appointment but was soon open at 100% capacity, as was the store in NAM’s main lobby.
Today, NAM Resale continues to support NAM’s mission in multiple ways by providing free clothing, household goods and furniture to neighbors in need, selling to the community at affordable prices, and generating income for NAM’s programs and services.
Spreading Joy: The Holiday Project
After experiencing so much change in their young lives, NAM wanted to make sure the children of our community had plenty to celebrate at Christmas.
NAM’s annual Holiday Project provides holiday meals to families at Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as gifts for children. Typically it serves about 800 families each year. But in an explosion of community generosity, the 2020 Holiday Project gave 17,000 toys to 5,500 children.
Along with that, more than 1,700 families received a turkey and all the trimmings for complete holiday meals at Thanksgiving and again in December.
“We knew the community was hurting, and we had to step up,” says Samantha Anchia, Director of Development for NAM. “When you think of children going without, you have to do it even if it seems impossible. Because it seemed impossible in the beginning.”
As Christmas 2021 approached, the community rallied around NAM once again—providing gifts for 5,000 children and holiday meals for 1,500 families.
Toy donations came from congregations, businesses, school districts, Toys for Tots, and individual donors. Like Santa’s elves, hundreds of volunteers worked tirelessly on the project from October to December.
And because of everyone’s efforts, Christmas was filled with joy all over our community.
NAM’s volunteers are an amazing gift. Over the past two years, NAM has been blessed with 3,500 volunteers who gave nearly 85,000 hours to serve our community.
Every moment of service is a conscious decision to put others before themselves. A calculated risk to care for neighbors at a time when it would be easier to just stay home.
The work they accomplish touches every program at NAM. Volunteers answer hotline calls at the Family Violence Center, meet face to face with clients in need of assistance, pack bags of groceries in the Joanne Watford Nutrition Center, deliver Meals on Wheels, and sort gifts for the Holiday Project, to name just a few.
In doing so, they are a beautiful reflection of our community, spanning all ages, ethnicities, abilities and experiences. And with each act of compassion, they extend love and care to neighbors in need.
In every moment of this crisis, the community has looked to NAM. Leaders have looked to NAM as an essential partner in delivering solutions. Neighbors, desperate for help, have looked to NAM for the very basics of life.
Through it all, NAM has been there. Providing food for thousands of families. Delivering meals to hundreds of seniors. Lifting huge burdens with rental assistance so neighbors could avoid eviction. Caring for children’s health in the midst of a pandemic…offering safety for women and children trapped in violent homes…and equipping adults with skills for life-changing jobs.
No other organization in our area can do what NAM does. In every crisis, large or small, NAM serves. The community relies on us to be here. But with that expectation comes the support to make it all possible. Your support.
Thank you for the sacrifices you have made, and for putting the needs of others before your own. Your generosity is a legacy of help and hope that will never be forgotten.