In a world that is anything but normal, the issues that everyday people are facing have been brought to the forefront of our local and national attention. Families who were already struggling are now dealing with the added challenges of a world thrown into turmoil due to a pandemic. We had the chance to sit down with Alexia Morrison, Executive Director of Reach St. Pete, a nonprofit focusing on eliminating homelessness in St. Pete, to hear how she and her team have been working towards that mission and tackle the problems that COVID has introduced.
1. What made you decide to help the community in this way (i.e. the hotspots and other projects you’ve taken on)?
Reach St. Pete has been running various programs since 2016 to help prevent people from losing their homes or utility services, and to ultimately to eliminate homelessness. Our Under the Bridge program offers hot meals, hygiene products, and necessities to those in need. The Pinellas Church campus houses the South Side Program where we provide for basic needs, bill assistance, and get to know the families we are helping to work towards a long-term solution. One of the most in-demand assistance programs is Fill the Need where people can request whatever they need to get by. For example, there was an individual whose water tank broke down, and while they could afford their rent and bills, this was an expense they were not equipped to handle.
2. What impacts have you seen on surrounding or similar businesses/nonprofits/individuals?
Reach St. Pete has been boots on the ground for four years now but the issues we are tackling are anything but new. Since COVID hit the area, requests have exploded to upwards of 75 per hour on the busiest days and our team of 2 and volunteers are running to keep up with demand. Most of the recent applicants have either lost wages or been laid off due to COVID. Much like other nonprofits, Reach St. Pete’s funding has pivoted to COVID relief including installing handwashing stations in public areas like the parks.
3. What positive ways have you seen the small business/nonprofit/general community come together?
When we did our budget for 2020, we could have never predicted the pandemic and its impacts, but The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay stepped in to help supply what we needed to meet these demands. We also have an Adopt a Need list where community members can “adopt” the listed needs and pay for someone’s water bill or help cover expenses and we have seen a large influx of needs being filled by the general population. St. Pete has really shown up for each other in the last several months.
In the last three months, we’ve seen over 1,260 individual people, distributed more than 1800 hygiene products, provided over $40,000 in rent bill grocery assistance, and helped 910 families on top of the previously mentioned 1260 individuals.
4. What ways can the community help you?
The one thing that most people have is time and it can be the most valuable resource. You can get involved with Reach St. Pete by volunteering to help put together hygiene packages or sorting donations. We are also planning to launch an outreach program with local motels which will be an opportunity coming up for people to get involved. And of course, playing a role fiscally by adopting needs, donating, etc. If you’re interested in donating items, there has been a large call for diapers and formula in the last several months.
To learn more about Reach St. Pete and getting involved, you can visit their site at www.reachstpete.org