A nonprofit executive like Traci Wickett has connections everywhere in a community.
The president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Southern Cameron County heard from Brownsville’s Good Neighbor Settlement House about growing needs they were seeing as furloughs and unemployment set in with the outbreak of COVID-19.
The demand for served meals and emergency pantry items doubled in less than one week in early April.
“Unemployment sent people’s worlds into a downward spiral faster than any one organization could respond,” Wickett said.
Uniting to Fight Hunger
She then consulted with her board of directors. They quickly allocated $33,000 to launch United Against Hunger, but that was just the beginning. Two local community and health foundations each chipped in $15,000 for the project. From there, weekly Friday distributions were set up. Volunteers and furloughed restaurant workers were then utilized to prepare and package meals and food items.
“People leave their egos at the door to plan for how to accomplish the task of getting food into the pantries of those who need it most,” Wickett said.
In May, the weekly food distributions took place at the Brownsville Events Center and the Southmost Library. The locations would alternate every Friday. Volunteers included Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino and Nurith Pizana, the CEO of Valley Regional Medical Center. They worked with many others to distribute food to thousands of local residents. The community at large has also responded with individual donations exceeding $25,000.
“I’m amazed at the response,” Wickett said. “We’ve received donations large and small – all of which make a huge impact.”
Getting It Done
Wickett and the United Way have taken those efforts to another level by getting involved with Get Shift Done. It’s an initiative which began in Dallas, connecting furloughed food service workers with nonprofit organizations struggling to meet the demand for food.
The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation also made a major donation to Get Shift Done’s launch in the Rio Grande Valley. Those resources thus allow the United Way to hire furloughed food service workers who have experience in cooking, preparing and delivering meals and services. Other nonprofits involved in Get Shift Done include Amigos Del Valley, the Salvation Army of McAllen and the Brownsville Wellness Coalition.
“The (food service) workers are fast, efficient, and are used to hustling,” Wickett said. “They bring an amazing capacity to the nonprofits – plus they get a paycheck. So there are two components – more food distributed and more food service workers getting a little help.”
Seeing how these workers get the job done is bringing a newfound appreciation of their skills, she said, and hopes that recognition will subsequently extend beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
“They love serving people, and it shows,” she said.