Lessons learned, practices altered as pandemic wanes

Schenectady – Nonprofits have gone through a pandemic and are likely to face another.

How can they face the next difficult times and what lessons have they learned from the current crisis?

These two metropolitan area nonprofits have adopted policies over the past 20 months that will sustain and help them cope with future epidemics or times of deep crisis.

Schenectady Foundation, Schenectady

With local jobs eliminated, Schenectady was on the front lines, with the charity working with County Schenectady to operate a command center that directed a team of volunteers and county workers to distribute tens of thousands of pounds of food per week to local residents. families.

Within weeks, a group of nonprofits began working together to provide resources, from providing diapers to directing guests to social service agencies.

The operation met immediately. When the pandemic subsided that summer and the center curtailed its operations, the charitable organization wasn’t content to take a break.

“Let’s not let a good crisis go to waste,” said Bob Caro, CEO.

Carreau and his team analyzed what worked and what didn’t. They studied the logistics and relationships established in the midst of a crisis. They wanted to protect themselves against future crises.

“Let’s re-invent not just to be more flexible, but to be smarter and faster so that we are able to change when things happen — or even anticipate when things go wrong,” said Caro.

One conclusion: the group of nonprofit organizations merged into a more formal operating structure. Several working groups have been formed to focus on food delivery, child care, rentals, utility relief, and employment.

Schenectady is confident that these groups can come together more quickly to carry out more efficient and focused relief operations in future challenges.

“We all really depend on each other,” said Caro. “In order to function optimally – even within our own organizations – we need to know how to rely on others, how to integrate, and not all of us have to do everything.”

Carreau is particularly proud of the Alliance’s effort to group job training programs into a single effort.

Several independent workforce development programs, including those run by the SEAT Center and Schenectady’s Community Action Program, now operate under a unified umbrella.

This unity is critical in a challenging job market, Caro said, and a stronger partnership aligns with the organization’s stronger outreach to disadvantaged communities to alert job seekers to opportunities.

Efforts are also underway to improve food distribution. The Schenectady Foundation last month awarded $450,000 in grant funding to six local nonprofits that are leading innovative projects to reduce hunger and improve access to “healthy, nutritious and culturally appropriate foods.”

The grants — issued to the Regional Food Bank in Northeast New York and Christ Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, among others — will build on the foundation’s early work on the pandemic by funding projects designed to advance the county’s food system toward a fairer and more equitable system.

Christ Lutheran, for example, will expand its food stock, while Capital Roots will create a new Capital District Food Policy Council, a group designed to foster closer collaboration between stakeholders.

Schenectady Foundation
376 Broadway, 2nd Floor
Schenectady, NY 12305

Mohawk Hudson Humane Society / Menandes Animal Care Center
3 Auckland Street
Menandes, NY 12204

“I think straightforwardly, that’s the direction the diet is headed in,” Caro said. “And for us, the infusion of capital will lead the way, help discover the best way forward and how system users can maintain what they are looking for.”

Mohawk Hudson Humanitarian Association, Menandes

Animal welfare organizations were in the public spotlight early in the pandemic for the influx of pet adoptions from a beleaguered and troubled public.

Pet adoptions by the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society last year fell about 40 percent. Intakes were, for obvious reasons, limited.

However, the number of meals served through the nonprofit Furry Friends Pet Food Pantry increased from 53,703 in 2019 to more than 250,000 the following year.

The Menandes-based nonprofit has also begun partnering with established food stores to expand its distribution network.

“There was a need,” said CEO Ashley Jeffrey Book.

Other programs, including low-cost sterilization, sterilization and wellness services, remained available throughout the crisis.

Like other nonprofits, Mohawk Hudson has used the pandemic to change and adjust its policies. While they already have strict disease control standards in place, the crisis has accelerated the shift to paperless formats.

Mohawk Hudson boosted employee training and began offering classes for workers experiencing “empathy stress” along with other self-care programs, often bringing in experts to facilitate the exercises.

Future chapters will also accommodate the unexpected outcomes that have arisen from the crisis, including shifts in animal behavior arising from owners working from home – and then back to the workplace.

“Just like many nonprofits that have tried during this time, we’ve learned that you can try things without fear of failure,” Bock said.

Also new: Mohawk Hudson’s free service advice line will be extended to all pet owners, even if they’re not existing customers.

The nonprofit will relaunch its humanitarian education program in 2022, while the virtual fundraising events are here to stay.

Bock credits the Mohawk’s Hudson’s success and resilience to humanity’s better angels.

“We got through the toughest and we know we can get through it again,” Bock said. “We were here for the community and we know the community was there for us – and we’re moving forward stronger and better.”

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