West Side Families Count On Good Neighbors During Pandemic
House of Neighborly Service Still Strong After 100+ Years
Even with restrictions gradually lifting on being out and about during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Estela Trujillo feels quite jittery about heading out of the house.
As an older adult, she knows that unfortunately she’s in the primary target demographic for the dangerous virus. She does have children in the area, but she can’t expect them to drop everything they’ve got going on a daily basis to come over to bring her meals.
That’s why Trujillo has counted on her House of Neighborly Service (HNS) family for years.
“I’m so grateful to be able to have their help,” she said.
The nonprofit social services agency has been part of the heartbeat of San Antonio’s West Side since 1917, helping empower local families through its various multi-generational programs such as assistance to seniors as well to youngsters through after-school academic tutoring.
Those and other established HNS programs are still going – but now they look much different.
As with countless other nonprofits in the San Antonio Area, HNS wasn’t spared from the wrath of the coronavirus. The agency had no choice but to quickly innovate and adapt to the new environment in order to stay afloat and keep helping its many client families.
“Everything was going great until COVID hit our community,” recalled Sandra Morales, HNS executive director. “We had so many activities planned for our seniors with great incentives for them to keep coming in. Also, when schools closed, our after-school program had to shut down.”
Morales had lived through various ups and downs over the years at the helm of the venerable community organization and she certainly knew how to function under stress – but she had never faced a challenge of this magnitude. She was responsible for providing jobs to the 20-member staff and they were contemplating potentially having to close their doors for good.
But HNS hasn’t stood ground for over a century to suddenly go down now. When Morales and staff began looking for support ,the San Antonio Area Foundation was ready and willing to help them remain safe and sound.
The Area Foundation provided HNS a $25,000 grant through the COVID-19 Response Fund, jointly set up and managed with the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County.
With older adults stuck at home and no longer able to go to the HNS building for meals, the agency put grant funding to good use by making sure meals went to them – literally. Program staff began delivering food to their clients on a daily basis.
The pivot was necessary across the board. The after-school program shifted from academic tutoring to helping youngsters and their families with basics – from groceries to utility bills and clothing.
“I lost my job and my husband’s work was cut down to part-time,” said Adelpha Ochoa, whose family of four received help with groceries from HNS through the Area Foundation grant. “That helping hand really helped us get by – God Bless you.”
Elizabeth Peters, HNS after-school program coordinator, said the agency had many clients like the Ochoas – badly in need of help with essentials. She helped organize a school supply drive since parents could not afford it.
Peters said HNS is still tweaking its programming, noting the need is now for the entire household and not just children. The agency has had to get into creative mode and that’s not likely to change any time soon, she noted.
The Area Foundation had full confidence that HNS will continue providing its critically needed services for many low-income families in the West Side, despite the pandemic. That’s why there wasn’t a moment to waste in deciding to provide them grant funding.
“They have deep roots in the neighborhoods they’ve been serving for over 100 years,” explained Gavin Nichols, Senior Program Officer with the Area Foundation’s Community Engagement and Impact Department. “They understand the needs of their families and they serve them as neighbors.”
If they can help it, HNS will keep at it for 100 more years. Getting through really tough times – such as during this current pandemic – with the gracious philanthropy of community donors giving through the Area Foundation will ensure families will not go without help.
Had it not been for the COVID-19 Response Fund grant, around 100 older adults would’ve gone without daily meals and 25 families in the afterschool program would not have received help with essentials.
“It made a huge impact – a godsend,” said Morales. “It was the catalyst we needed to pivot really quickly.”