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Community Outreach and Engagement Division

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Community partners: Care and connection during the pandemic

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Bloomington Briefing Published April 6, 2022
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Updated on April 6, 2022
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Changing times require creativity to meet community needs in new ways. Bloomington community organizations stepped up to the task during COVID-19. In this series, you’ll learn more about how Cornerstone, VEAP, LA RED Latina de Educacion Temprana and Oasis for Youth found innovative ways to connect and care in pandemic times.

Cornerstone
Cornerstone

Cornerstone’s services encompass comprehensive programming for victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking, sexually exploited youth and general crime. Cornerstone offers emergency safe housing and operates a 24-hour crisis line, the Day 1 Hotline, to ensure people receive the help they need.

“Our goal is centered around safety and what can we do to help our participants become safe and maintain safety in the context of whatever it is they want to do,” Program Director  Cheryl Kolb-Untinen said.

How did Cornerstone innovate? They incorporated online services.

During the pandemic, Cornerstone remained open because of its 24-hour service model.

“We had to quickly put very high precautions in place and social distancing. That meant rearranging things,” Colleen Schmitt, senior director of emergency services, said. “We accepted fewer families in the shelter at one time, but we continued to expand and work with community hotels. We were able to serve the same number of participants that are seeking safety.”

A switch to online services proved to be effective immediately. Online platforms allowed for services to be accessed at any time.

“We learned to do our work in a different way,” Kolb-Untinen said. “I believe we will take that knowledge moving forward. There will be some services offered both in person as well as a virtually for our participants’ benefit.”

For more information or to request assistance, visit cornerstonemn.org or call 952-884-0376.

VEAP: Volunteers Enlisted to Assist People
VEAP

VEAP is a basic needs organization that focuses on access to healthy food, housing stability and social services. Prior to the pandemic, people came to the food pantry and shopped for their own food twice a month. Regardless of the cause, VEAP helps people with rent and utility assistance and how to maintain
financial stability.

How did VEAP innovate? They went with contactless food delivery.

In March 2020, VEAP had to pause any in-person shopping at the pantry. To make sure people have access to food during this pandemic, VEAP increased its efforts to take care of the need.

“We had to change everything to go to contactless food deliveries, whether that’s a drive-through or delivering food to people’s homes,” Chief Executive Officer Joe McDonald said.

“Since the start of the pandemic, housing support and needs have grown exponentially. People have really been hit hard; lost jobs, lost income and have experienced housing instability,” McDonald said. “We’ve been able to help keep people up to date on their rent payments, so that people don’t have to worry about that while they’re trying to find jobs. It’s been pretty incredible the partnership we’ve had with the cities, other nonprofits and the county.”

If you need food or housing assistance, visit veap.org/get-help or call 952-888-9616.

LA RED Latina De Educacion Temprana
LaRed

LA RED is a community-based organization that provides tools for family, friend and neighbor childcare providers (known as “FFN care”), a common form of care for infants and toddlers. LA RED connects Spanish speaking childcare providers with quality trainings, educational opportunities and leadership development.

How did LA RED innovate? They expanded training and support.

In the past two years, LA RED transformed the way trainings are provided. “LA RED invested time and resources to help its members learn how to use the new technology available, like Zoom, in order to share knowledge and teach classes or trainings,” Ruth Evangelista, LA RED founder said.

LA RED trains Spanish speaking providers on early childhood development, safety, First Aid, nutrition, physical activity, school literature and support for children with special needs. To support its members and the community, LA RED extended its reach with additional services and resources by participating in food distribution, coordinating testing and vaccination clinics, donating school supplies and providing stipends to help FFN childcare providers during the pandemic.

During the pandemic, many families turned to FFN care when their typical childcare provider closed, or they did not feel safe to have their child in a childcare center.

“Childcare is an essential service critical to working adults and or families,” Evangelista said.

If you would like more information about LA RED Latina, contact Ruth Evangelista at ruthevangelista@hotmail.com.

Oasis For Youth
Oasis For Youth

Oasis for Youth serves youth experiencing homelessness or housing instability to provide a pathway for youth to become self-sufficient contributing members in their communities. The organization works with youth on employment support, rental assistance, education and health and wellness. They offer a drop-in center that offers food, clothes, showers, a place to do laundry and legal aid.

How did Oasis for Youth innovate? They went mobile.

During the pandemic, Oasis for Youth quickly developed mobile services. Executive Director Nicole Mills explained that going mobile was part of their strategic plan prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic pushed them to implement these changes sooner.

The organization fundraised for two cargo vans and a minivan that were built-out to be mobile offices. Oasis increased their outreach team and became mobile.

Oasis for Youth continued to offer a physical drop-in center where youth can have a safe place to shower, do laundry, access a clothing closet, get food and other help.

“It was a place for our young folks to get out of their element and a place to hopefully have some positive interaction with caring adults,” Mills said. “It’s an honor to work with our young folks for trusting us to guide them through a really uncertain time.”

Learn more about Oasis For Youth at oasisforyouth.org. To request assistance, text or call 952-512-2061.