We all have experiences that are etched forever in our minds. I know people who recall what they were doing when they learned President Kennedy had been shot. I remember where I was when I first heard about the 9-11 attacks. And it turns out, I’ll always remember the moment when COVID-19 became “real.”
On Thursday evening, March 12, 2020, I was attending a LEAF board meeting. We were working with a consultant regarding important planning. Suddenly, one by one, our phones started alerting us: COVID was coming, schools were closing, jobs were moving home. The whole world turned upside down in a few minutes. Our long-term planning went out the window, and LEAF pivoted immediately. We could see that something big was coming. But looking back, we had no idea how challenging, hopeful, traumatic, and transformative the next 12 months would prove to be. And looking back, I count it a mercy that we didn’t know.
I imagine every individual, every family, every business, perceived the onset of COVID through a particular lens. My COVID lens was a human services one, focused on a small agency that I love, along with its teams of volunteers who serve our community with dedication and passion. We were about to be faced with never-before-known unknowns. There wasn’t a plan or a road map, but many people were depending on LEAF to figure it out. There was so much anxiety and adrenaline, so many hours spent thinking and planning, working out ways to offer services when there were no established procedures to follow.
Nobody knew how the virus would spread or act. I attended daily Boulder County meetings, where the most current information was shared out. I attended weekly Town of Lyons meetings. (Remember when “Zoom” was new?)
It was a scramble to determine, in a few days, how to completely reconfigure our Food Pantry and Meals on Wheels programs: How would we keep our participants and volunteers safe? How would we distribute food when we could not be in the same physical space together? How could we be confident there would be enough food? How would we revise our plans when the definition of “safe” kept changing? How would we communicate all of the changes with the community? How would we tell newly-struggling community members that LEAF could help?
Once our teams started to come to terms with the anxieties and upheavals related to offering nutrition programs in the days of COVID, bigger-picture community-wide issues emerged: People were out of work. People were sick. They were afraid. Kids were trying to school at home. Parents didn’t know what to do. Families were struggling to keep their lights on, to pay for their housing. Vulnerable people felt more vulnerable. The most isolated among us were even more isolated.
How would we identify funding to pay for the skyrocketing costs of providing more basic needs and services to more people than ever before, in the midst of a global pandemic? I attended grant meetings, and I wrote more grants than in all my previous years of nonprofit work combined. We asked you, our community, to partner with us, too. And you rose in support of LEAF’s work! The Lyons Community Foundation, Laura Levy, realtor, CEMEX and many, many others partnered with us. So many people did so much. Our community somehow powered LEAF to meet the needs. We all worked together to keep our community together.
Our teams have worked harder than ever, innovating new solutions to new problems on a weekly basis. The Food Pantry team perfected the drive-up distribution model. The Meals on Wheels team figured out how to deliver hot meals and warm “hellos” and above-and-beyond wellness checks, all while practicing social distancing and keeping everyone safe. Our mental health therapist created amazing virtual wellness meetings, and offered them up to the whole community. Our Basic Needs & Resource Matching program ramped up, making 10 times more grants than in the previous year. Lyons Volunteers helped on big and small jobs, too. Altogether, our team of over 100 volunteers served over 7200 hours in 2020. They provided more basic human services to more people than ever before. They worked hard. They worked scared. They got the job done for this community!
In the midst of awful, some beautiful things happened, too. We grew. We learned we’re more brave and strong than we knew. LEAF and Lyons Community Church agreed that LEAF could expand to larger space, and with more access. When we can welcome you back inside for Food Pantry, you’ll see an enlarged and improved arrangement. We also have a private office for our mental health therapist now, and work space for our teams. And do you remember 2020’s virtual Rave To The Grave? How about the amazing and uplifting Colorado Heart(h) Warming streamed music events that Arthur Lee Land and Skye McDonald and their teams have produced?
I want to share that we’re not out of the woods yet. Fatigue is real. If you can give to LEAF, we thank you. Our Food Pantry continues to greet about twice as many households each week as before COVID. Our costs for Meals on Wheels have increased tremendously. As adrenaline starts to come down, real (and understandable) mental health issues are emerging. “Recovery” still feels far away to too many of our gig and service workers, our artists and musicians. Applications for Basic Needs assistance are still flowing in. Too many of us are barely limping towards the end of this crisis. If you need us, we’re here.
The past year, the Year of COVID, has been a trauma. As a human, I’m tired. As a nonprofit worker, I’m exhausted. It will take a long time to make peace with the mad, bad race that was 2020. As we see the beginnings of recovery on the horizon, I hope we’ll remember the big and small ways we pulled together in the midst of fear and uncertainty, too. And when you see a LEAF volunteer – could you offer him or her a well-deserved virtual hug?