December 2, 2021

New ways to meet needs

Nonprofits adapt operations during coronavirus outbreak

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Nicole Clink, a medical assistant at Family Counseling Services of Cortland County Inc., shows a video setup for clients to use to speak to a counselor. The organization has been switching to video and phone calls to keep social distance between counselors and clients in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

As one of two members of United Way for Cortland County, Executive Director Christella Yonta doesn’t have to worry about social distancing.

“I’m by myself in this office so I’m not at risk to anybody,” she said.

The other worker, a campaign associate who does marketing and communications work, has moved to working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic and orders for non-essential workers to work from home in New York state.

The coronavirus has changed how local nonprofits operate their organizations.

For Yonta and the United Way, business has meant assessing calls that are then directed to the 211 call center, which provides information about local resources and services, and making sure that the organization’s partners can meet those needs.

Some of the organization’s partners include:

  • CAPCO.
  • YWCA.
  • The Salvation Army.
  • Red Cross.

Since the beginning of March, Yonta said there has been an increased demand for food from food pantries in the county because of the virus.

“There’s a demand for food normally and we know as businesses close and people aren’t working, demand is going to increase,” she said.

United Way has been working to make sure food pantries at places like the Salvation Army are increasing their supply through the Food Bank of Central New York to meet the increased need.

Yonta’s biggest job has been making sure that correct information from the United Way’s partners gets to 211.

“It frees us up to get the work done an address the needs that are coming in,” she said.

As the restriction on nonessential jobs continues, Yonta said the United Way will remain busy helping residents get access to help.

“There’s going to be continued needs,” she said. “Especially as people are laid off or not able to work.”

Like the United Way, Seven Valleys Health Coalition has been working to keep the most up-to-date information with 211’s call center, said Executive Director Jackie Leaf. The staff is working from home, she said. While the setup has changed, the work hasn’t.

“We’re just trying to stay in touch with what the needs are and how to address those needs,” she said, including continued advocacy for Cortland’s transportation system, Cortland Transit, especially during the pandemic.

“There are still times people need to get out and get groceries,” she said.

Beyond working from home, the biggest changes to the organization have been the cancelation of cooking and parenting workshops, Leaf said.

As the pandemic continues, Leaf said the organization will continue to work on keeping updated lists of food pantry availability, including which location, its hours and the availability of food.

Following the rule of social distancing, changes have come to Family Counseling Services of Cortland County, Inc. for how clients and counselors meet, said Executive Director Lisa Hoeschele.

Instead of meeting face to face, clients can come into the center and talk to a counselor via video link. Phones are also available for use if clients do not have a cellphone.

“The vast majority of our clients are thrilled with this option,” she said about the video calls.

Previous regulations required in-person meetings, though those have been waived for now, Hoeschele said.

Family Counseling Services has only a limited number of staff members working in the office during the day.

Most of the counselors are at their homes when they speak with a client, Hoeschele said.

Hoeschele wasn’t sure about future changes and that the organization will remain physically closed, except for appointments, until April 6.

“Every day brings a different announcement,” she said.