SCOTTVILLE — Mary Trucks has seen a lot in the decades she has worked for FiveCAP, the community action agency created by the state in 1965 to address unrelenting issues around poverty and promote individual and family self-sufficiency.

Recessions, inflation, joblessness and a host of other economic factors have had a devastating impact over the years on residents in FiveCAP’s four-county region of Mason, Manistee, Lake and Newaygo counties, says Trucks, executive director of the agency.

But nothing has come close to COVID-19.

“This one is packed with misery for the long term,” she says. “Low-income people always suffer more in situations like this, so we continue to try to alleviate as much of the pain as possible, using resources from the state and federal government and the private sector.”

“As the tragedy of COVID-19 unfolds, it is clear that low-income families, seniors, those who are homeless and people with special needs are going to feel its impact deeply for a long time,” says Kris Schoenow, executive director of the Bureau of Community Action and Economic Opportunity through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Community action agencies such as FiveCAP are recognized by Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer as part of the critical infrastructure during the response to COVID-19 because they are providing essential goods and services such as food and housing to vulnerable populations.”

According to Trucks, the request for urgent help has increased in the past month, plus FiveCAP has been asked to provide educational materials to families with children, now that schools are closed. And she is working with fewer staff.

On Monday, after Trucks determined she could reduce staff at FiveCAP’s central office in Scottville to just 10, she gave remaining staff the option of working from home or being furloughed.

Trucks says staff in the office building are wearing masks when providing services, and they are observing the 6-foot social distancing order in the 3,300-square foot building. She gave fever strip thermometers to staff so they can check their temperature every morning.

To observe social distancing after receiving an emergency request for food, a staff person packages up the needed goods and puts them just outside the door, where the family can pick it up, minimizing potential COVID-19 exposure for both workers and clients.

“We do the same for Head Start and Early Head Start families who need diapers and other essential items,” says Trucks.

The FiveCAP website lists the agency’s modifications, meetings canceled or moved to virtual conversations and new protocols put in place to meet directives of Whitmer’s March 24 executive order.

Food distribution continues

“We were asked by the state to operate our scheduled food distributions during the Stay in Place order,” says Trucks.

Provisions for seniors are designed to supplement what they are able to buy, and focus on helping balance their nutritional needs. They receive a two-month supply of items such as vegetables, soups, rice, juice, meat and plant-based proteins, and dairy.

Low income families will receive a three-month supply of food at the June distribution.

FiveCAP staff also work with residents who need help filing income taxes. Because COVID-19 stimulus payments are based on federal income tax filing for 2018 or 2019, Trucks says helping residents get their federal tax form filed this spring is especially important, and they can help most families by phone.

“We’re in this for the long haul,” says Trucks. “When we opened in 1965. We were one of the only organizations helping low income people. Now there are many throughout our region, and we refer and coordinate with each other so together we can do the best job possible for those who need us.”

For help with food, shelter and other emergency needs, contact FiveCAP at 231-757-3785 or email fivecap@fivecap.org.