May 5, 2020 by The Weekly Calistogan Staff
Ana was laid off in mid-March, when Napa County’s Shelter-at-Home ordinance shuttered the large hotel where she worked. As a single mother with two teenage children, this job had been her only source of income. It had been enough to get by, but not enough to save for a rainy day – and she knew she wouldn’t qualify for unemployment benefits. By the end of the month she approached her landlord to ask for an extension on her April rent. But he wouldn’t budge, and let her know he’d charge a $50 fee for every day it was late. She urgently called her boss to ask when she might be able to return to work, only to hear that the hotel had no way to answer that question at the moment.
Ana panicked: how was she going to keep her children housed, and fed? How would she pay her electricity bill, so that her kids could keep up with their distance learning? And how long would it be until life returned to normal?
There are thousands of families across Napa County who, like Ana’s, have been hard-hit by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis. With so much of the Valley’s economy rooted in hospitality and tourism, layoffs have reached far and wide: current data suggest that as many as 16,400 Napans – a staggering 22% of the population – might be unemployed by May. Meanwhile, those who still have a job face the impossible challenge of working remotely while also caring for their children.
‘Unprecedented’ feels like an understatement for this crisis. The lines at every food bank stretch as far as the eye can see. Over 4,000 households have reached out to the county’s Family Resource Centers with a need for financial assistance, and thousands more are waiting to be approved for unemployment. Applications for CalFresh food benefits have increased by 300%.
But this overwhelming need has also been met with a broad and deeply generous community response. In Calistoga alone, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been dedicated to financial aid for struggling families, thanks to the Napa Valley Community Foundation, the City of Calistoga, the Calistoga Rotary, and many other generous local businesses, individuals, and service clubs. These funds are helping the vulnerable households among us meet their most essential needs: a roof over their head and food on the table.
The school districts, meanwhile, are doing what they can to set their students up for learning success at home. This means providing free internet hotspots and laptops to families without a connection at home, and teachers and school counselors who make themselves available by phone. It also means the school cafeterias are continuing their work, providing free daily meals for pick-up so that students can count on a nutritious lunch to keep them energized. Local chefs and restaurants are likewise offering free meals, providing another source of sustenance to households who struggle to purchase groceries.
Neighbors are checking in on one another; those who can are sewing face coverings to donate, or volunteering at the food pantry. Behind the scenes, the County’s Coalition of Organizations Active in Disaster, or COAD, is working to connect these many community initiatives with one another in hopes of maximizing their effectiveness, minimizing duplicated efforts, and ensuring that no needs go unaddressed.
And the local organizations who serve vulnerable communities are pivoting their operations to meet the greatest emerging needs, working hard to keep their services accessible amid the restrictions of the Shelter-at-Home ordinance. UpValley Family Centers is distributing crucial emergency aid to local families with no recourse to other forms of income, and helping eligible households apply for unemployment or other government benefits. After a friend advised her to reach out, Ana left a message with the Family Centers, and received a call back from a case manager the same day. The Centers provided her with emergency aid that helped Ana pay her rent and utility bills, as well as a $100 gift card for CalMart, allowing her to purchase groceries for her family.
UpValley Family Centers is also modifying its regular programs to provide virtual or phone-based services – because families’ needs go beyond basic subsistence, and once our community begins the long process of socio-economic recovery, they’ll need support on many fronts. Starting this week, the Family Centers’ tax preparation services will re-start through phone-based appointments. Early learning staff are providing take-home activity packages to keep young learners engaged, while the senior services program has turned its monthly Lunch and Learn events into a “drive-through” or even home-delivery service: participants receive a free lunch, alongside a packet of stress-relieving at-home activities, resource lists, important information, face coverings, and hand sanitizer. The Family Centers’ youth mentorship program is hosting virtual weekly group sessions, its immigration service is providing phone-based citizenship tutoring, and its positive parenting program is offering virtual toolkits and resources to help parents maintain a nurturing home environment for their kids.
Ana is deeply grateful for the support that sustained her family over the past few weeks. Now, though, at the end of another month and still no firm date in sight for a return to work, Ana’s panic about paying rent is resurfacing. This crisis is not yet over, and the need will continue to grow. The generous community and institutional response will not feel like enough. But it will be something, and it will be valuable.
To learn more about local resources available during the COVID-19 crisis, please visit https://readynapacounty.org, or http://upvalleyfamilycenters.org/covid-19. If you would like to learn more about opportunities to get involved, you can register with the COAD as a Volunteer On Call, to be contacted as volunteer opportunities – both in-home and in the field – arise. Please visit http://napavalleycoad.org/volunteer/ to learn more.