Local Pottstown NGOs continue to adapt

The pandemic has reached all parts of society, including groups dedicated to serving the community. Whether they support the homeless, the hungry, or underprivileged children, local NGOs continue to persevere and push forward and support their communities when they are needed most.

Working closely with many local NGOs, Amy Lehman, director of partnership programs at Hill, observed: “Many local non-profit organizations in and around Pottstown have faced increased demand since the pandemic began, especially those that serve people living with food insecurity and others that provide shelter or support finding affordable housing.” She also pointed out that, since many volunteers are older, these organizations need to be extra careful about maintaining a safe working space.

The Lessig-Booth Family Residence shelter provided by the Salvation Army of Pottstown is a shelter housing and supporting people through their homeless periods. When the pandemic first hit, they decided to minimize the number of people remaining and encourage them to live with relatives. After they started to gradually bring back the families, they implemented new safety practices such as daily temperature checks and mask-wearing. As of now, Wendy Egolf, the director of housing programs at Salvation Army says that safety is still the number one priority. 

“Our primary goal continues to be maintaining safety and health for all families and staff members, and our increased sanitation procedures will remain at a more robust level,” said Egolf. Aside from initial sanitization measures, the Lessig-Booth Family Residence has placed hand sanitizing stations throughout the building.

“We continue with increased signage and verbal cues, reminding families to wash and sanitize their hands. We also continue to ask questions related to current health status of each family member being admitted to the program,” Egolf said. “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to change the way we view the safety and function in the family residence,” she continued. With these precautions in place, they were able to properly deal with two incidents of COVID-19 quickly and constrain any further spread of the virus.

Good Samaritan Services is another NGO that works to address the full spectrum of housing needs in the Pottstown community. According to Richard Baxter, Director of Residential Services at Good Samaritan Services, intakes are what have been impacted most.

“The biggest change we have had to make in our Phoenixville shelter and the transitional program was with intakes. We used to accept people into the program on a rolling basis as space opened up, but now we are only doing 1 intake into the program every 10 days. A new arrival stays in an isolation room for 10 days and then we move them into the general population in the emergency shelter and then begin with a new person,” said Baxter. However, Baxter is still hopeful.

“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, our staff and board remained focused on our mission: to serve those experiencing and at risk of homelessness, and to support stability in the lives of those we serve,” said Baxter.

Additionally, Lehman noted that “other organizations, such as those supporting youth, have pivoted to online programming. ArtFusion created art kits for pick up and use during online classes and The Foundation for Pottstown Education focused on helping students get computers and WiFi access for remote learning, an effort that was supported by a generous gift through The Hill School.” The JT Dorsey Foundation, a non-profit aiming to promote youth growth through sports programs, directed more attention to virtual services as well. 

“We have not been able to deliver our normal program but are trying to find ways to reach our families in a safe way,” said CEO Julian Dorsey. “We have not really focused on delivering soccer, though we have dropped off soccer balls to kids who want to stay active at home. They use our online curriculum or get on Zoom. We have started to create some online cooking videos that show families how to make low-cost healthy meals and are putting together some family workout videos they can do at home.”

After almost a year following local non-profits’ pandemic responses, Lehman comments on the effect their tenacity has had on the community at large.

“Overall, it has been inspiring to see how many people have stepped up to support non-profits during this crisis because they value the work being done and recognize the increased need.”