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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Neighborhood centers coalition working to provide necessities, ease fears

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With all of the panic surrounding COVID-19, the United Neighborhood Centers of Indianapolis (UNCI) is doing its part to help the 12 neighborhoods it serves to get the basic necessities and (virtual) interaction needed to stay healthy and balanced during the crisis. 

Barato Britt, CEO of Edna Martin Christian Center, a member of UNCI, said the organization is prepared to help community members until this pandemic is over. 

“As this thing evolves, we’ll continue to deal with families and individuals who are moving more deeply into various crisis situations,” Britt said. “With more and more people filing for unemployment, we’ll have more people reaching out to us for those services. Food is obviously an issue we want to provide support for, as well as connectivity. … Each community center has done certain things in their own ways, like child care and virtual learning opportunities, but we all align ourselves around basic needs.”

To ensure community members have access to food, UNCI is partnered with Indy Hunger Network to offer food pantries and food delivery services. To help curb the spread of the virus, the food pantries are all “grab and go” to protect both those getting groceries and the volunteers at the centers, and volunteers wear protective equipment and enforce social distancing.

According to Britt, Edna Martin Christian Center has served between 700 to 800 people with its food pantry and delivery service. 

Christamore House also has a food pantry, with donations from Second Helpings and Gleaners, and as well a a baby pantry, which assists families with children from newborn up to age 2. Executive Director La’Toya Pitts said community members could use a walk-up or delivery service to get items such as diapers, wipes and formula. 

Like the Edna Martin Christian Center, Christamore House is prepared to provide resources for the community as long as the COVID-19 pandemic lasts. 

Beyond food access, UNCI is working to close the “digital gap,” meaning people who don’t have the technology or access available to adequately do school work from home. 

“We want to promote engagement and alignment with school systems to continue to engage students to make sure they stay on task,” Britt said. “Our issue with senior citizens is the digital divide and the level of understanding and accessibility.” 

Britt cited the importance of keeping the elderly and others virtually engaged with one another to manage feelings of isolation, as such feelings can exacerbate symptoms of dementia and the risk for falls in older individuals. UNCI is helping community members engage in Bible studies and exercise lessons online. 

While Britt hopes the centers can return to normal operations soon, he does envision the focus on technology will remain long after the virus subsides. 

“Each of our organizations have adapted and evolved,” he said. “We’re looking at how we can help people in the long term and that includes virtual opportunities for engagement. … I think the new normal requires us to think about continuing to incorporate some of these strategies in concert with direct engagement.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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