Phaniece Bouie stays home these days, snuggling with her month-old son, Khymir.
Outside her windows, COVID-19 concerns loom. Venturing out is not a chance she wants to take. Not for herself, and especially not for her only child.
But every baby has needs—diapers, wipes, formula.
That’s why the Grand Rapids mother so appreciates the Spectrum Healthier Communities diaper delivery program, launched just days ago to help parents in need during the pandemic.
Bouie lives near stores, but doesn’t dare enter them.
Healthier Communities community health worker Natalia Palma came to her rescue.
Prior to COVID-19 and state-mandated stay-at-home and physical distancing orders, Healthier Communities workers made home visits to check on families and drop off needed supplies.
The new program focuses on porch drop-offs, with no physical contact. Healthier Communities piloted the program for a few days and officially launched it on April 1.
“She brought me some wipes and some diapers,” Bouie said of Palma. “She’ll be bringing more tomorrow. They’re very helpful. It’s really been good for my baby. This prevents me from having to go out. It’s very helpful.”
Even though physical distancing is strictly in effect, the drop-offs feel like a warm embrace, a sense of comfort in an upside-down world.
“I don’t have many people I can count on,” Bouie said. “This is very comforting.”
Palma said Bouie is not alone in her situation. Nor in her appreciation.
“To go out and try to find things is very scary,” Palma said. “We’ve been able to provide diapers, formula and wipes. I see it helping her a lot.”
Many clients are those who silently slip through the cracks, unnoticed, unseen, their dire need for help falling silent among the endless chatter and chaos of society.
“We tell them ‘we’re here for you,’” Palma said. “We’re here to cheer.”
Palma said it’s not just the physical supplies that matter to Healthier Communities family members. It’s the caring. The commitment. The continuity.
“It’s such an interesting experience to step back and understand that piece,” Palma said. “A lot of us haven’t been able to understand that because we haven’t experienced that. It builds a beautiful relationship with them when we say, ‘What I’m telling you is what we are going to do for you.’ It’s been a beautiful opportunity to show them that we are here for you, no matter what.”
Toilet paper, such a rare and treasured commodity, becomes almost symbolic. Sharing it shows love, each sheet a symbol of compassion. The diapers, although not rare, show the same.
“It’s not just a roll of toilet paper,” Palma said. “We get text messages back about how much they appreciate it. It makes you realize it’s not just about the diapers. It’s much bigger than that to them.”
Soroya Pierre-VanArtsen, director of business operations for Healthier Communities, said the home drop-off program has been a huge hit.
“Our clients have been thankful, particularly those who have not had anything and did not know how they would be able to access diapers or formula,” Pierre-VanArtsen said. “I’m just so grateful for our team. They’re being champions for their clients.”
Pierre-VanArtsen said she expects the need to grow as more people lose their jobs. To qualify for services, clients must be residents of Kent County and on or eligible for Medicaid.
“The population we serve often faces many challenges in housing, food, clothing, education, transportation,” Pierre-VanArtsen said. “They have difficulty managing their health when they’re trying to figure out how to eat, pay their rent or find transportation to even get to a doctor’s appointment.”
As a strong support arm of Spectrum Health, Healthier Communities is responsible for providing home visiting services to vulnerable populations who face barriers such as food insecurity, transportation, and access to other essential resources that many of us take for granted.
The Maternal Infant Health and Strong Beginnings programs, which serve more than 1,200 people per year, will continue to provide drop-off services to eligible families with children 18 months or younger, despite home visits being banned at this time.
“We will deliver diapers, wipes, formula,” Pierre-VanArtsen said. “We’ll also deliver car seats for mothers who will soon be delivering. For individuals of our other programs, we are looking for opportunities to deliver much-needed medication and food.”
Pierre-VanArtsen said she and her staff brainstormed what clients would need.
“What would they need historically?” she asked. “We came up with a plan to acquire diapers, wipes, formula, shampoo, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes. We’re able to order these through the Spectrum Health supply chain. If we were to go into a typical grocery store, we might not be able to find diapers, wipes or baby formulas. Understand that if that’s an issue for an average person of means, it’s a huge hurdle for many of our clients.”
Pierre-VanArtsen said her team has 500 packages of diapers to package and deliver, along with an appropriate amount of wipes to support the diaper count.
“We work with our clients to determine what their essential needs are,” she said. “We converted a classroom into a distribution center. Our staff members fulfill orders, package and label them, then we have a group of staff members who have volunteered to drop off items to clients in a non-contact visit.”
Pierre-VanArtsen said she’s thankful for the collaboration and compassion.
“Spectrum Health Healthier Communities case managers and community health workers are so committed to ensure the clients we serve have every single resource in order to be successful during this stressful time,” she said.