Urban Ministries of Wake County January 2021 Update: Navigating a Pandemic

Things have been a bit different at Urban Ministries of Wake County since March of 2020. As we enter our 40th year, we wanted to update you on what's happened during the COVID-19 pandemic and how, together, we have a made a difference in the lives of more than 40,000 neighbors in need during a 10-month period.

Starting in March, we implemented telehealth visits, curbside medication pickup, and safer in-person visits for our clinic patients. We have given out roughly 150 blood pressure cuffs so our patients can monitor their own health at home.

The clinic was able to provide more than 2600 telehealth encounters, with some of those patients being referred to a COVID-19 case manager or behavioral health specialist.

We have partnered with UNC Healthcare, NeighborHealth, and Walgreens to bring free COVID-19 testing and flu vaccine clinics to our building. More than 500 of our patients received flu vaccinations.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services recently identified a few of our clinic employees as being eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine under the criteria of phase 1A. This is our Nurse Practitioner Vanessa Valencia who says she is "grateful for this vaccine."
Long-time Open Door Clinic patient receives flu vaccine
Patients at the ODC tell us they are appreciative of the care they receive because the cost of healthcare is so high.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we switched our pantry back to the curbside model. From 2016 until March of 2020, we were the county's largest client-choice pantry. Meaning, people shopped for their food like a grocery store.

We knew that wasn't the safe way to give groceries to our clients. We set up a system which involved 6 volunteers a day and 3 staff members packing boxes and loading up cars.

We give each household a week's worth of fresh groceries. We went from serving roughly 30 families each day to 85-90 in just a matter of days, due to the economic toll of the pandemic. Just since March, the pantry has served about 39,000 people. In a normal fiscal year, our pantry serves roughly 29,000.

This client told us the pantry has been a blessing since her family lost income during the pandemic. She also loves the quality of groceries from our Hunger & Nutrition Program.

Our Hunger and Nutrition Program Manager, Nick Robertson, also had to find new ways to source fresh foods. Supply chain issues delayed shipments from our traditional partners, but we are committed to having about half our groceries be made up of fresh produce and frozen meats.

We purchased foods from Sysco Systems and US Foods. It cost us much more to do that, but the quality of food we have is important to us and our clients.

Our own garden, tended by a group of volunteers, brought in about 7700 pounds of food to our pantry in 2020.

The Helen Wright Center for Women presented its own challenges during the pandemic due to congregate living sitruations.

Thanks to help from Wake County, we were able to open a new shelter, keep the old one running, and take over another building. Operating in 3 locations allows us to maintain social distancing and safety precautions.

This winter, we have partnered with Wake County and the Raleigh-Wake Partnership to End Homelessness to operate a much-needed White Flag shelter.

Also with Wake County's help, we started a workforce development program. Women who are eligible can stay with us longer and complete courses in three areas which will lead them to higher paying jobs.

Currently, 35 women are enrolled in classes provided by ProTrain.

Our staff works to keep the women safe, find them permanent housing, and help them get back on their feet.

Since March, we have sheltered more than 242 women and placed 22 women in permanent housing. Some women have stayed with us longer than usual due to the pandemic.

Up until March of 2020, we largely depended on volunteers to help run UMWC. We knew we had to change that for everyone's safety when COVID-19 hit. We have a handful of volunteers in the pantry each day, we are using a few in-person and remote volunteers in the clinic and pantry, and we have volunteers who drop off meals at the Helen Wright Center for Women.

About 740 volunteers gave of their time at our Capital Boulevard location from March-December of 2020. Hundreds of others were involved in bringing meals to the new Helen Wright Center for Women.

Our community was generous with monetary donations as well. In addition to our long-time supporters, we had more than 600 new donors join us in 2020.

Many volunteers made or donated masks for our staff and on-site volunteers.

If you gave of your time, money, or just helped spread the word about our mission, we thank you!


Saadia Bookhardt-Smith