Trusted help in turbulent times

Staff and volunteers are masked and ready to serve. In the front row, from left: Tamra Stafford, Carol Brockway, Georgia Rolfe, Drew Johnson, Sheri Louis, Diann Weesies, Julie Oosterhouse and Donna Simonton. Standing, from left: David Sirotti, Lorna Landrum, Austin Wiggins, Wes Bittenbender, Michael Sirotti, Jackie Sirotti and Sarah Cagney.

By Danna Downing

Generous Hands and South County Community Services (SCCS) staff welcome anyone impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to reach out with a single call to (269) 649-2901. With this call, the information and assistance needed to cope with the ongoing shut-down and medical issues is readily available during these uncertain times.

Thanks to increased support from community donors, United Way and the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, both agencies stand ready to help in new ways. Due to the unusually high need for help, access to financial and basic need assistance is now easier and more convenient than ever. Both Drew Johnson, director for SCCS and Sheri Louis, the director at Generous Hands, say, “Do not hesitate to call – we are here to help!”

“Anyone who has been a client of SCCS this year and has reached pre-COVID assistance limits should check in with Austin Wiggins, the emergency assistance coordinator, if they need additional help,” says Johnson. Robust food options and other kinds of help are changing from day to day and new and current SCCS clients may qualify for new assistance. Fortunately, both agencies are also connected to many other critical resources in the area and can help callers navigate that maze of opportunities as well.

The Vicksburg facility, shared by both agencies at 606 North Spruce Street, is now back to its regular service hours of 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

The office is closed on Friday, but phone calls are screened for emergencies that day. Friday Pack distribution continues to occur on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m.-noon, and by appointment. The Veteran Services office is open on Wednesdays from 9 a.m.-noon.

Before you come to visit:

You may want to call ahead and set up an appointment.

If you want Generous Hands services for families with school-age children, come to the back door.

If you are a family seeking emergency food or financial assistance with clothing, transportation, utility bills, rent or medical costs, use the front door.

Wearing masks and maintaining appropriate social distance are required by state law during the pandemic. Masks are available on site, if needed, along with hand sanitizer.

When you call 649-2901:

Use the telephone directory below to connect with the person or program you need. If you are unsure of what you need or to whom you should speak, just hit zero for the operator and leave a clear message about WHO you are, HOW to reach you and a brief description of WHY you are calling. Staff will screen calls Monday through Friday and return your call as soon as possible.

Press 0: Operator: Hours, location, program registration, veteran services appointment, questions, resource guide requests.

Press 1: Sheri Louis, GH director: Friday packs, grocery vouchers, farmers’ market vouchers, program registration.

Press 3: Gabe Chapman: DHHS benefit specialist.

Press 4: Drew Johnson, SCCS Director (Monday-Friday).

Press 5: Austin Wiggins: emergency assistance – food, clothing, gas vouchers, rent, utility and medical financial assistance (Monday- Thursday).

Press 6: Tamra Stafford: transportation coordinator for Metro Share van and other senior rides (Monday-Thursday).

Press 7: Sarah Cagney: Senior outreach coordinator-resource coordination, SAFE at HOME for seniors and kinship caregivers (Monday-Thursday).

This year’s Backpack Bonanza has been re-tooled to meet COVID-19 safety standards and to increase access and convenience for families in need. Rather than staging an event by invitation, backpacks and school supplies will be available to anyone who needs help this year. Simply call 649-2901 and leave a message with the auto operator to register for service. The school supplies will be available through the month of August.

What About First Day Shoes?

First Day Shoe Fund (FDSF) will be onsite at South County schools this year, depending on pandemic restrictions and school calendars. Stay tuned to your local school communications for more information.

Generous Hands and South County Community Services have partnered with First Day Shoe Fund to do free shoe clinics at past Bonanza events. That partnership has evolved into a model that will better address the needs of more students who need help in getting comfortable, well fitted shoes for the first day of school. This approach is now school-based and funded by sponsorships. Generous Hands is sponsoring Sunset Lake Elementary and South County Community Services is sponsoring the Scotts-Climax Schools this year.

The FDSF has set the goal of providing shoes for K-5 students county-wide and is looking for school sponsors so that more schools can be served. Anyone interested in becoming a FDSF sponsor or volunteering for these events should speak with either Drew Johnson or Sheri Louis. To learn more about the FDSF organization, go to http://www.firstdayshoefund.org.

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