By Jessie Wagoner
Programming at Steps to End Poverty in McPherson County (STEPMC) has changed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but two things have remained consistent – connections and resiliency.
STEPMC, which was founded in 2010, strives to fight poverty through building connections. The organization builds relationships and walks alongside people who are overcoming poverty. Director of STEPMC Austin Regier says the team leaders participating in STEPMC have shown a tremendous amount of resiliency throughout the pandemic.
“A lot of our team leaders or people in poverty are accustomed to living in crisis,” Regier said. So, during the pandemic, they have stayed calm and done very well. While the middle class may be freaking out, our team leaders are maintaining calm. I think it really shows the resiliency people living in poverty have in regards to obstacles and challenges.”
Regier says many of those living in poverty typically work minimum wage jobs with most of those jobs being considered essential. While a few team leaders have lost their jobs during the pandemic, many have been able to continue working with a few picking up some extra hours during this time. Maintaining employment has been a positive for the families, however, finding affordable and safe child care has proven to be a struggle.
“With schools closed child care has been a huge barrier for families,” Regier said. “Many people have had a hard time finding affordable and safe child care.”
There have also been additional supports for families since the pandemic began. Additional, EBT funds have been made available for parents with school-age children, the Farmers to Families food box distribution has been ongoing and there have been resources to help with rent assistance. Regier says when those supports end, he is concerned families will have more challenges ahead.
Typically, STEPMC hosts weekly in-person programming for team leaders. During the weekly meeting, a meal and child care is provided and the team coaches and leaders work together to help team leaders overcome poverty. No in-person programming is available right now, so they have been meeting weekly via Zoom.
“Team coaches have still kept in close contact with team leaders,” Regier said. “They go visit and take a meal. We are working on developing more robust programming for COVID-19.”
STEPMC did have to cancel a few fundraisers due to COVID-19, as well. Though they recently hosted a No Show BBQ where people were not invited to attend. STEPMC board members encouraged people to donate the money they would have spent attending the BBQ to STEPMC. Donations continue to be important for STEPMC as they move forward.
Regier says anyone interested in donating financial resources or meals for families can contact him or visit STEPMC online at stepmc.org. Donations can be made online or they can be mailed to STEPMC at 1200 E. Kansas Ave., McPherson.