When The Pantry hired a very part-time social worker in the summer of 2014, believe it or not, there were friends and donors who questioned the need for such a person here. I think, most people have accepted the idea by now, but it is important to articulate why case management is so important. When we brought Stephanie Cuerrier, a health enthusiast and MSW (Master of Social Work) to join our staff, she came to implement our NOW (Nutritional Options for Wellness) program, which has been going gangbusters every since. Additionally, we tasked Stephanie with the broad work of ‘Referrals and Case Management’.
Not only has Stephanie brought dozens of classes to The Pantry (see our Calendar), but she has supervised several GVSU (Grand Valley State University) interns from the BSW/MSW (Bachelor & Master of Social Work) Program in this time. Those interns, in turn, contribute to the ability of The Pantry to provide more referrals and facilitate a greater offering of classes, programs, and services. We have dozens of fresh new ideas and new programs in the works for 2016 and 2017 (details will follow) and we are very excited about how those programs will benefit the community. Many times though, what our guests really need is someone to listen to them, talk through a problem or reach out on their behalf.
Last week, a new Pantry client came in for emergency food assistance. Our Social Worker, Stephanie, said hello and the woman responded in turn. After a few moments, the woman approached Stephanie with her pre-school aged child in tow and asked if we might be able to help her. Her gas had been shut off for non-payment and she had cobbled together enough money to pay the bill, but the gas company had told her they couldn’t be out to turn in on for 2 days. The woman had pleaded and pleaded with them, but to no avail. Stephanie called the gas company on the woman’s behalf and after introducing herself as a social worker calling on behalf of this family, the gas company sent someone out immediately to turn on the gas. This woman had done everything she could, but a call from a social worker finally got the company to do the right thing and do it in a timely fashion. Winter is no time to be without heat.
Today, a gentleman from the Middle East with a family of 6 came in for emergency food assistance. Again, Stephanie reached out to him with a welcoming hello and the man confided in her that his family was teetering on homelessness. He works at a very physically intense job and had had surgery on both of his shoulders in recent months, missing some days. Even working full-time since, while he should have been convalescing, he was struggling to afford rent. His family was ‘doubled up’ with his brother-in-law’s family and the apartment was just too crowded. The brother-in-law wants them out. He has been looking for an affordable solution for several days, but due to a limited ability to speak English, the man says, agencies he had contacted previously for guidance had hung up on him. Just taking the time to listen and having the patience to work with a limited English speaker like this gentleman, Stephanie has made plans with him to meet again, gather more information from him and connect him with the right agency in town. In this man’s case, just getting an agency to wait for him to express his need was difficult. This is why we have a case manager here and this is why, it is our belief, that these interactions benefit our community deeply.
As we continue to move from an agency that is primarily transactional to one that is fully transformational we love to have these chance encounters with friends in the community that tell us, we are moving in the right direction. If you support this transition, join us today or give on-line!