Wendy Sims has seen a lot during her 12-year tenure as coordinator of Bryan County Family Connection, a state and local collaborative of 12 agencies geared toward helping families and children in need. She hasn’t seen anything like the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Sims said Wednesday while working from home.
“I was telling someone the other day that I feel like this is waiting on a hurricane and it’s never going to get here,” she said. “It’s like we’re in hurricane mode and it’s never going to come. The problem is we just don’t know. Everything’s so uncertain, there’s no timeline for when this is going to be over or what it’s going to look like when it is, or even how do we know when it’s over, and how is it going to change the way we live?”
The questions are especially difficult, Sims added, because of the nature of BCFC’s work.
“For an organization that’s all about families and children, and about wrapping our arms around the families and children in the county and trying to make sure they’re taken care of, we have to be so hands off right now. That’s really hard.”
Social distancing and shelter in place policies aside, BCFC is still trying to wrap its arms around families. Some 350 kids a day are being fed meals at three locations in Bryan County – Pembroke’s municipal park, Hendrix Park in Black Creek and Plantation Apartments in Richmond Hill.
The meals, a dinner and breakfast for the next morning prepared by Bryan County Jail kitchen employees and distributed by volunteers, are free for any child who needs one, not just the nearly 34 percent of school children currently enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program in Bryan County Schools.
The meals for kids are essentially an extension of the county’s annual summer lunch program, Sims said, which is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture and the state’s Department of Early Childcare and Learning, and with support from both BCSO and Bryan County commissioners, as well as the city of Pembroke and Plantation Apartments.
Bryan County’s summer lunch program, long a way for struggling families to ensure their children have a meal when school is out, traditionally gets underway after Memorial Day in May. Sims said she intends to do the same this year, though it’s been difficult to plan.
“The transition from emergency feeding to the summer lunch program,” she said. “is not very clear at this point, but we’re working on it.”
Making sure people who need food have help is the biggest priority now at BCFC, Sims said. In addition to children, the organization has responded to 230 requests for food from its food bank in the last two weeks – among the calls for help came one from an elderly lady in Ellabell who sent a message to the Bryan County News Facebook page Friday saying she was without transportation and low on food.
That message was passed on to Sims, who, with delivery help from Pembroke Advanced Communications volunteers, ensured the woman received groceries. In the meantime, the food bank, which is not funded by tax dollars but instead relies on donations, is now appointment only. That means a call to the BCFC office, which then rings to Sims’ cell phone.
She’s fielding a lot of calls. Some are for help, some to help. Most are for help. In the meantime, BCFC’s wide umbrella often makes it a starting point for residents looking for resources such as legal help, mental help, health care, employment help, emergency financial aid or senior care. As the BCFC website puts it, “Our Collaborative is a group of public, private, non-profit agencies, business and faith based representatives working together to improve outcomes for children, youth and families in Bryan County.”
To make sure representatives of the various organizations know who’s able to do what during the pandemic and that information can be forwarded to residents who need that help, representatives from the various agencies working with BCFC will have their first meeting of the COVID19 pandemic Thursday.
Digitally, of course.
Sims, who since 2008 has weathered two hurricanes and implemented a dozen summer lunch programs and spent hundreds of hours advocating on behalf of those in Bryan County who need such support, said BCFC will continue to operate and help those in need.
But the challenges have been unique during the pandemic, not even the fallout from hurricanes Michael and Irma in 2016 and 2017, respectively, compare.
“When the hurricanes came that was a regional disaster,” Sims said. “This is a disaster on a worldwide level.”
For more information about BCFC or to make a donation, call 912-653-5577.