Outreach in the Age of COVID

Matthew’s Hope Ministries, based in Winter Garden, is a homeless outreach ministry organization exclusively serving West Orange County. There is a core group of volunteers who have managed the onsite Matthew’s Hope Outreach activity every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the COVID pandemic. Outreach days are those where Matthew’s Hope delivers services either at the main operations facility or via a mobile unit. Guests arrive on foot, by bus, bicycle and some are picked up by the Matthew’s Hope van.  They receive services to include medical support, breakfast, showers, hygiene items (razors, anti-itch cream, shampoo and shaving cream) and clothing amongst others. 

Prior to COVID, guests were allowed in the facility to get their coffee and a hot breakfast. COVID protocols now require that these services be delivered outside of the brick-and-mortar facility under a tent. After registering guests, these wonderful volunteers deliver a hot breakfast sandwich, juice and coffee along with a warm greeting. 

“We’re all outside now,” says volunteer Pam De Priest. “We all wear masks and we sit outside, be it hot, cold, rain or shine.”

Guests may only enter the building to shower. This activity is carefully managed so that a full sanitization can be performed after each shower is used and that COVID precautions are maintained.

The volunteer team also supports the mobile outreach unit that provides services to the homeless camps.

“We prepare hot sandwiches and bags of food for the teams to take on the road and position the mobile team to depart on time with the supplies needed on the route,” says De Priest.

Volunteers continue to do laundry for the guests as well. Clothes are collected and laundered on Tuesday and returned clean to guests on Thursday. The laundry team ensures that everything from blankets to underwear to jackets are cleaned and folded for return to the guests. This team usually does over 30 loads of laundry each week.

Guests still receive items from the food pantry, but now instead of selecting the items themselves, pantry items are pre-selected and bagged by volunteers. There is even attention to guests that require special nutritional considerations such as low-salt and low-sugar items.

“The volunteers speak with each guest and bring the correct bag to them based on their dietary needs,” says volunteer Caroline Bucher.

The services these volunteers continue to provide is very similar to those provided in the pre-COVID days. It’s just that the delivery is a little different. 

“We still charge cell phones, offer food stamp assistance, and they still can see the nurse,” says De Priest.

Outreach in the age of COVID has been a great example of how a focused team can successfully pivot, retain a terrific attitude and impact someone’s life with each engagement. Well done team!

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Written by Marlena Morton

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