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How Kansas City’s Financial Opportunity Centers are Responding to COVID-19
LISC Greater Kansas City, in partnership with United Way of Greater Kansas City, operates a network of five Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs) across the metro that serve over 1,100 low- to moderate-income clients a year, helping them achieve financial stability through financial coaching, employment coaching, and income supports. The spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent school and business closings have affected these clients the most, resulting in temporary unemployment, housing, and food insecurity. Like many Kansas City organizations, the five FOCs have stepped up to help in any way they can. Before COVID-19, three of the FOCs provided additional services beyond financial coaching, including food pantry services.
Community Services League (CSL) provided financial and employment coaching, income supports including their food pantry, and vocational training. With the exception of vocational training, which has been temporarily suspended to adhere to social distancing, CSL is still providing these services. They have seen an increase of more than 400% in food requests over the past few weeks and quickly adjusted to offer drive-thru pickup at up to five locations on any given day, staffed by CSL employees as well as volunteers. Financial and employment coaches continue to offer their services through phone or virtual check-ins.
Like CSL, Guadalupe Center’s requests for food services have risen over 400%, a need they have been addressing through expanding their food pantry space, providing almost 1,000 lunches a day, delivering food to the doorsteps of those who are unable to travel to the center, and setting up a drive- thru distribution. Guadalupe Center’s clients primarily work in hotel and food service, industries that have been hit hard with closures and layoffs due to COVID-19. This has led to community members, who were not current FOC clients, at the Guadalupe Centers to seek help with processes such as filing for unemployment.
Metro Lutheran Ministries (MLM) is the third FOC with food pantry services, and has also seen an increasing need for food assistance. Coaches are working remotely when possible, but can also be found in the office, assisting with pantry and client services (while practicing social distancing!). As other FOCs have reported, most of MLM’s clients have lost employment, but they continue to push resources and referrals out to the clients as they become available. MLM is also connecting with clients to walk them through the unemployment application process so they can access the increased benefits available to them.
Our two remaining FOCs, Prosperity Center and Women’s Employment Center (WEN), have transitioned from face-to-face to fully virtual coaching and training sessions. Staff at Prosperity Center have been working remotely since mid-March and are actively working to assist each client with conducting their job search, completing online applications, understanding their consumer rights, and receiving one-on-one coaching. At WEN, staff are similarly conducting classes and workshops virtually, engaging through email and telephone counseling. They are working to keep clients updated with job leads and informing them of those employers who are still hiring. The financial coaches are frequently contacting clients, trying to stay on top of budgets and providing resources for food and healthcare services.
Though it may be hard to determine the long-term effects the Coronavirus will have locally and nationally, reports indicate that the virus is affecting low-income and Black communities at a disproportionate rate in our community and abroad. Kansas City’s Third Council District, where the population is predominately Black, reports the most confirmed cases in the City. Nationally, the CDC reports 33% of hospitalized people are Black. This population is also more likely to lack adequate health insurance, work essential jobs in service or health industries, live further from hospitals, live in multi-generational households, and have underlying health conditions exacerbated by systemic inequity. It is inspiring to witness our Financial Opportunity Centers doing their best to address the immediate needs of individuals and families in our community, and it is crucial that addressing the need for equitable resources continues. For Kansas City and the nation as a whole to thrive, it is essential that each person receives the care, attention, and resources they need and deserve.
Written by Kelli Hearn, an Assistant Program Officer in the LISC Greater Kansas City office who works with the Financial Opportunity Centers network.