NEWARK, NJ – October 27, 2020 – Most of La Casa’s employees have not returned to our workplace since Monday, March 16, 2020 when we shut down our doors due to the global health emergency. Here it is, seven months later and more than 228,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, with 10,000 Newarkers infected, and 2,100 deaths in Essex County alone. And now, with a potential second surge in the future, we all must continue to do our part to contain the spread.
While there has been so much economic and social stress since the onset of the pandemic, the crisis has also showed La Casa’s true colors – those of creativity, resilience, and resourcefulness.
La Casa de Don Pedro quickly shut down our doors in Mid-March and our program teams activated new efforts to transition into virtual, online services. We re-prioritized fundraising needs and captured new dollars, our business office acquired and distributed Personal Protective Equipment and supplies and our facilities team expediently retrofitted and prepared our facilities with protective installations. We shared and trained our staff on health and safety protocol so that when we do return, we will be able to keep our program participants and staff safe. The City of Newark’s COVID reopening inspection team visited our centers and gave us the thumbs up to open all of our centers.
At the onset of the pandemic we were fortunate to obtain federal Payroll Protection Program funding, which allowed us to retain all staff during the early period of the pandemic when we experienced a good deal of funding uncertainty. We were also fortunate because many of our funders provide greater flexibility and even supplemental COVID-19 funding.
Our ability to be nimble, maintain all health precautions and strengthen partnerships allowed us return to our some of our community centers in August to provide essential services. We have been distributing groceries and meals twice a week to hundreds of screened households facing food insecurity. We opened our doors to provide programs that only face to face services will suffice, such as immigration legal services and home energy assistance. Our new full day Study Hall Program for school age children initiated in October provides supervision and support to students while they complete virtual schooling, and offers essential socialization in a safe space while their parents to return to work. Another new program – emergency rental assistance for families dealing with the impact of COVID-19 – is another new initiative we are implementing this fall to address emerging needs. All centers offering these in-person services not only require everyone to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, but we’ve installed hand sanitizer machines and initiated health screenings and temperature checks.
As we cautiously reopen our doors and return to the workplace on a case by case basis, all staff are required to be tested for COVID-19. We are also assessing an on-going testing policy for staff returning to work based on guidance from our health insurance carrier, availability, and feasibility.
Nonetheless, no amount of testing or screening can guarantee an infection free environment. Wherever we are, in the workplace, the grocery store, the doctor’s office or in our home we must continue to follow the CDC’s and other trusted institutions’ recommendations that limit the spread of the coronavirus. We are all dependent on the honesty and trust of each other, from those we associate with at work, at home, and within our small social groups. For this reason, La Casa continues to prioritize educating people about how to contain the spread by teaching the simple strategy to wash hands, wear a mask, stay home if you’re feeling sick, get tested, follow Newark and the state’s emergency measures, and support the contact tracing efforts to help contain the spread.
Now that we are in the final quarter of 2020, the future still holds much uncertainty. But we will continue to embrace the ambiguity and will remain creative. We continue to recognize that what we are facing is a health crisis with long term economic, housing, and mental health impact, especially within vulnerable communities that are predominately Black and Latinx like Newark. Our priority is to ensure the health and safety of all our staff in order to protect and preserve our team so we can continue to assist our constituents during and through this pandemic. We will stay the course to strategize, plan, and prepare to fulfil La Casa’s mission and responsibilities to help lift our community out of the anticipated challenging during and in aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
The board of directors, our senior management team and I very strongly believe La Casa will manage its way through this pandemic. We are committed to doing all that can be done to ensure that all of us continue to provide our individual and collective grains of sand that serve our clients, constituents and community.
Please stay safe and be well!
Executive Director, La Casa de Don Pedro