As news broke about the rapidly developing COVID-19 pandemic, Greater Bergen Community Action (GBCA) committed to staying informed and proactive. Being the federally-designated anti-poverty agency of Bergen County, which also provides services such as Head Start and Early Head Start to the cities of Paterson and Jersey City, GBCA relied on the guidance of local health departments, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, local and state leaders, and relevant school districts for direction. It was the indomitable spirit of the GBCA staff that allowed the agency to truly prepare for what came, however.
In the early stages of this catastrophic outbreak, GBCA carefully sanitized every building staff works in to provide services to the communities we serve. The agency installed hand sanitizing stations and ensured all flat surfaces, door knobs and handles were focal points and cleaned regularly throughout the day. That deep cleaning process continues. GBCA also shared information with our clients and staff about COVID-19 and preventative measures that should be taken.
When school closures were called for, GBCA Head Start staff rallied together to ensure that the care and education process carried on. Teachers, administrators and caregivers remain in daily contact with parents to monitor students’ progress. They, among other staff and specialists such as family workers and nurses, are available to answer questions and concerns during this time.
The agency’s Food and Nutrition Department continues to prepare and deliver food, coordinating with local school districts, Head Start families, and group living facilities to ensure those that GBCA serves continue to receive nutritious meals.
When it became clear that government buildings would have to shut down, GBCA moved immediately to provide the majority of staff the technology they needed to do their very important work from home. The agency’s Utility Payment Assistance, Homelessness Prevention, and Tenant/Landlord Mediation programs developed new protocols that allowed them to continue to process applications and provide essential resources to the community via phone and email.
The Education and Training Center continued working remotely with High School Equivalency and English as a Second Language students as well as Citizenship clients including, via distance learning tools, regular follow-ups via phone and email, including checking their progress on line, and giving and checking homework via email.
The Planning, Development, and Communications Department is working diligently to keep the public informed on new developments and has been compiling resources that may be useful during the crisis; they continue to write grants to ensure funding continues to be available to provide necessary services; the Finance Division is keeping supplies ordered, the bills paid and the books balanced; Human Resources is ensuring that employees get paid and have someone to turn to with questions and concerns; 1st Bergen Federal Credit Union continues to be open and available, albeit on a limited schedule to ensure that their members continue to have access to very important banking services in this time of need. Dedicated staff at GBCA’s residential programs continue to provide critical services to homeless youth, men in recovery, and families.
And yes, staff continues to come into the office, working alternating schedules, necessarily sitting and meeting safe distances away from each other. Administrators, accountants, grant writers, security guards, facilities managers, human resource staff, technology specialists, enrollment specialists, managers, executive assistants, counselors, and so many more – all show up, boots on the ground, making sure the wheels keep turning, supporting clients, supporting work-from-home staff, supporting each other.
Together, the people of Greater Bergen Community Action continue to move its mission forward. They do this responsibly, taking their personal roles in containing this pandemic very seriously, and they do so diligently. The fight against poverty does not take any time off, regardless of societal challenges, such as the Coronavirus, that make the task a daunting one.
No, GBCA is not just one more inanimate organization. In times of crisis, it places on full display its beating heart, in the form of a dedicated, caring staff.