Upper Valley Haven
Michael Redmond, Executive Director
The Haven Adapts its Service Delivery to Safely Support the Upper Valley
During the Coronavirus Pandemic
White River Junction, VT—While many regional businesses are now delivering services remotely or have suspended operations entirely, the Upper Valley Haven continues to serve the community from its location on Hartford Avenue in White River Junction. As an “essential service” for the health and safety of economically disadvantaged people, the Haven remains open and provides food and shelter to people in need of assistance.
Numerous changes in operating systems and ways of working have been put in place to practice safe physical distancing and reduce contact for everyone involved, including staff, volunteers, and the public. This can be viewed most clearly in its Food Shelf operation, which served over 4,000 Upper Valley families and over 12,000 individuals last year.
“Before the beginning of March, we provided a shopping experience that focused on customer service and personal contact between our customers and the volunteers who accompanied them to make the shopping experience friendly and supportive,” explained Lori Wick, Food Shelf Manager. “Now, our goal is focused on safety. While we continue to provide a generous supply of nutritious food to everyone who comes here, we’ve totally redesigned the process to minimize contact and to efficiently move customers from registration through loading their car with food we’ve provided. This new curbside model has been well received by our customers.”
The food is pre-boxed with the same wide selection of products the Haven has always offered, including pasta, spaghetti sauce, beans, rice, peanut butter, tuna fish, breakfast cereal, and other items. Depending on family size, customers receive one, two, or three boxes. Dairy and meat products are added depending on availability. Registration occurs by telephone once customers arrive at the Haven or through a new service window. Customers remain on the outside while their food boxes are brought to them on carts by volunteers; carts are then disinfected before being used again. In addition, a wide selection of fresh produce and bread remains available. A large tent in the parking lot generously lent by Blood’s Catering provides a center for inventory and display during rainy weather.
The Haven also changed its weekday meal program. While the Caruso Café in its main building was a popular gathering spot for breakfast and lunch for 80 diners daily, the Haven now provides a boxed meal a day that is distributed each morning from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. in the parking lot in front of the Byrne Community House building by volunteers. “We know that while people miss the hot meals providing by our talented volunteer cooks, the loss of socialization opportunities is a real loss for many,” stated Leslie Rimmer, Director of Organizational Development, who developed and manages this program. “We hated to end the sit-down meal, but the take-out boxes contain a lot of great food and it’s a much safer practice for everyone.”
The Haven also had to address the loss of many volunteers who supported its food programs. “We had a lot of older volunteers who loyally supported the Haven for many years,” noted Amber Johnston, Director of Community Education and Volunteer Services. “They love the Haven and didn’t want to stop volunteering even though this Coronavirus presents significant risks for the elderly. We were gently able to convince them to take a step back for now when we showed them that new volunteers were ready to start.” The Haven has taken many steps to provide a safe work environment for volunteers. When they arrive each day, they are asked questions suggested by the CDC that cover any recent travel, contacts with people exposed to the coronavirus, and the presence of any cold, cough or fever. New infrared thermometers are used to measure skin temperature of every volunteer and staff member. In accordance with the newest CDC guidelines, all people near others are requested to wear a cloth mask. Work of sorting and boxing is done in small groups at appropriate distance with disposable gloves worn by everyone. The Haven has also asked all on-site staff to devote a few hours each day to food management duties to lighten the workload.
The Haven’s shelter operations have also adapted to new realities focused on safety. While the Hixon Adult and Byrne Family shelters remain open, through some guests finding apartments in the community and others moving to motels there are now single bedrooms and private bathrooms for every adult in the Hixon shelter rather than shared rooms as was the usual practice. While the number of guests in the shelters has decreased, the Haven is now providing supports to over 40 adults who are staying in local motels through vouchers provided by the State of Vermont. “We’re very appreciative that Vermont government has recognized the need to support a safe space for people who otherwise would be homeless,” stated Renee Weeks, Director of Clinical and Shelter Services. The Haven community service coordination teams have regular phone check-ins, help provide access to needed services, and deliver weekly boxes of food that can be prepared with room microwave ovens.
The Haven has always depended on local charitable support for its operations. Over 90% of its revenue derives from gifts from individuals, companies, groups, and foundations. Over 70% of its support comes from people making a donation by check or through its website. And despite this pandemic, the community has reached out to help the Haven. Since the beginning of March, the Haven has received over 300 donations from the public, many from people who had never made a contribution to the Haven. “We had to cancel two of our special events – Mud Ball and Chefs of the Valley – and last week the Covered Bridges Half Marathon was also postponed until 2021, which is a big fundraiser for us,” stated Laura Gillespie, Director of Development and Communications. “We were thrilled that nearly every person who had purchased a ticket to the Mud Ball and every underwriting sponsor told us we could keep their ticket price or sponsorship. And we rolled over all of the Covered Bridges runner fees to next year so their place in the 2021 race is already secured.”
Michael Redmond, Executive Director, concluded, “We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, the impact it will have on our community, or the additional changes in services and program delivery we will have to make so that my staff and volunteers remain safe. But the Haven will continue to serve the Upper Valley with food, shelter, and case management support. The spirit of altruism runs deep in every one of my team and the volunteers who support us. That carries us forward and strengthens our resolve.”
About the Upper Valley Haven
The Upper Valley Haven is a private nonprofit organization that serves people struggling with poverty by providing services in four key domains: food, shelter, education, and problem-solving. The Haven is open 365 days a year, serves more than 14,500 community members annually, and never charges for any of its services. Updates about how the Haven is adapting to COVID-19 can be found at uppervalleyhaven.org/covid-19.
The Haven Through 40 Years
The Haven will commemorate its four decades of service to the region by releasing 40 stories of people, events, ideas, and services fundamental to our mission. We will be releasing these stories weekly, so check back often.