What a difference a year makes!

One year ago, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona Helping Hands (“AHH”) locked our doors. We made the difficult decision to close down the facility, allowing our small staff to work remotely, while hoping to keep both clients and volunteers safe. That decision was very short-lived. Within days, Mike Faust, the Director of the Arizona Department of Child Safety was on the phone, asking how they could assist AHH to ensure that our services providing essential needs for children in our state’s foster care system could resume. Through change and innovation, we immediately began serving families again, but those front doors remained closed.

We spent most of the last 12 months providing support through no-contact servicing. We would place requested products outside the doors of our warehouse to be picked up by foster families. While somewhat effective, this process took away the direct one-on-one interaction with foster parents. We didn’t have the opportunity to ask, “How else can we help?” or “What else do you need?” Our volunteer army, comprised mostly of senior citizens, also disappeared because of COVID. All of these changes combined to eat away at the morale of the AHH team. With families not entering the building, we missed out on the joy of seeing Eli’s smile, or the tears in Meg’s eyes when she realized she could receive much needed support from us for the arduous journey of raising her nieces and nephew.

What a difference a year makes! Over the past few weeks, we have reopened our doors and invited foster families once again to step inside our building. We have been able to ask those questions such as “How else can we help?”, and we have filled the SUVs and pickup trucks with clothing, diapers, books, school supplies and more to make the path of fostering children easier for all who open their hearts and homes to boys and girls who have experienced abuse or neglect.

Just over the last week, Donna had the chance to shop among our newborn clothing for 5-week-old “Kiki.” The clothing, diapers, personal care items and early child development toys eased the pain of overcoming the drugs that Kiki has been fighting since her birth. “Sarah” and her sister came in to play while foster mom’s truck was loaded up with twin beds and much more. Sarah fell in love with the 4- foot high stuffed giraffe that had been sitting in the front lobby and carried it around on her back, and then out to the family vehicle to relocate it to her bedroom at home! 16-year-old “Matthew” was very reluctant to engage with the service team. His demeanor softened just a bit when he walked into the warehouse and could select his own clothing, personal care items and a backpack of his choosing. Our Accounting Manager, Kevin, took a few minutes to dribble a basketball with an 8-year-old boy, and I entertained 5-week-old Kiki for a delightful fifteen minutes, all during a week that felt a little like pre-pandemic days!

Our whole world has been turned upside down over the past year. We’ve all had to search a little harder to find our way in a world of sheltering in place, schooling from home, health scares and other challenges. These disruptions only serve to compound the issues faced by Arizona’s 14,000+ children in foster care. Their lives have been torn asunder, and their need for safety and comfort has been heightened even more. I am so grateful that our caring community has made it possible for Arizona Helping Hands to emerge from the pandemic in a position to provide maximum support for so many children who truly need a safe place to sleep, a fresh set of clothing and a special personalized birthday gift made just for them. Thanks to our team, donors and volunteers, Arizona Helping Hands is fully back to personally connecting with foster families, and we are loving every minute of it! What a difference a year makes!

Dan Shufelt is the President & CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, the largest provider of basic needs to Arizona’s children in foster care. Learn more about the Organization at www.azhelpinghands.org and contact Dan at dshufelt@azhelpinghands.org

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