‘Adjusting accordingly’: Area nonprofits adapt to pandemic protocols

Tuesday, September 14, 2021
Flint Street Fellowship volunteer Robin Makidon puts together a box of food on Wednesday, Aug. 25. The food bank has seen many changes throughout the pandemic, only reopening to the public in late spring.
Samantha Jones / Carroll County News

EdDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth of a four-part series on the effects in Eureka Springs of the ongoing COVID-19 surge.

In June, Eureka Springs School of the Arts was painting a pretty picture of the future. The school held its first in-person workshop since February 2020, after more than a year of virtual workshops and fundraisers.

Executive director Kelly McDonough remembered how excited everyone was for the much-needed camaraderie.

“Our numbers had come down and people were able to start getting vaccinated,” McDonough said. “Of course, we had hopes that vaccination rates would be high so everything could continue.”

That wasn’t the case. McDonough said the Delta variant caused local cases to increase, making it necessary for ESSA to take proper precautions.

“We closed the school back down in August, so we were able to be open for two months,” McDonough said.

McDonough’s story echoes throughout local nonprofits. Jacqueline Wolven, executive director of Main Street Eureka Springs, said her board is back to meeting virtually. She had hoped to relaunch Cocktails for a Cause — a mainstay event for the organization — but Wolven said that’s not possible because of the virus.

“We want that to be a true celebration of the community, and until it’s safer, we have to put that on hold again,” Wolven said. “That’s a bummer.”

The only way for a nonprofit to make it through the pandemic, Wolven said, is by adapting frequently and enthusiastically. Often, that means taking everything one day at a time.

“Every day, it changes,” Wolven said.

Main Street spent much of 2020 working on a strategic plan, Wolven said, and offering virtual services to area businesses.

“People who would work with us are local people, and we don’t think they would come because they would want to be a little safer,” Wolven said. “We’re cognizant of them and what their needs are. We’re trying to figure out what to do and how to keep the momentum. It’s challenging.”

Library director April Griffith said she’s faced several challenges over the past few months. The library reopened to the public in March, requiring everyone to wear masks and restricting the number of people allowed in certain spaces. That hasn’t changed yet, Griffith said. She said the maximum number of people in the media center is seven, while 10 people are allowed inside the main library. Those numbers include staff members.

“We don’t reach those limits too often,” Griffith said. “We haven’t had to make people wait, but it’s gotten close a few times.”

The library hasn’t returned to curbside service, Griffith said, and remains open to the public. She said the library board has discussed closing down over the past few months.

“The consensus was it didn’t seem like it would make a big enough difference for our community if just the library was closed down,” Griffith said. “Plus, it seemed like we would receive a lot of pushback if we went back to curbside.”

Offering curbside services was tedious and time consuming, Griffith said.

“It was an extraordinary amount of work to operate the curbside protocols when we weren’t letting anybody in the building,” Griffith said. “Going back to curbside would be more of a detriment than a help at this point.”

Flint Street Fellowship reopened to the public a few months after the library did. Director Kathy Barnes said the volunteers were excited to interact with clients again, allowing them to choose the items they took home. Masks weren’t required when the food bank first reopened, Barnes said, but that has changed since June.

“The masks are really important, and I’ve had a lot of resisters,” Barnes said. “People are grumbling, but we are insisting on masks.”

She had hoped to host meals for clients, Barnes said, in the spirit of the food bank’s twice-weekly lunches held before the pandemic.

“We’ve had to pull back on that,” Barnes said. “We decided it’s not something to do right now. It’s just not comfortable.”

Flint Street is getting more clients by the day, Barnes said, and she expects the need to continue trending that way.

“We’re getting new people in here — brand new,” Barnes said. “They’re not the same people who have been coming all along.”

Meanwhile at Good Shepherd Humane Society, the thrift stores temporarily closed in August because someone tested positive at the store. Thrift store manager Janet Chupp said she tested positive for the virus after being exposed to it. Chupp credited the vaccine for helping her overcome the virus.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be vaccinated and get the Delta variant,” Chupp said.

The thrift stores run on volunteers, and Chupp usually has between 30 and 50 people working behind the scenes. That number has dropped drastically to 16.

“Volunteers are what keeps us going,” Chupp said. “They keep the animals safe and they’re just fabulous.”

Animal services director Cole Wakefield said the adoption center increased its emergency spots in case a pet’s owner dies because of the virus. So far, Wakefield said, the adoption center hasn’t seen a big surge in surrendered animals. With the nationwide eviction moratorium ending, Wakefield said, that might not be true for long.

“There is a concern that we’ll see a lot of surrenders because of the evictions,” Wakefield said. “We don’t want empty kennels, but at the same time we don’t want to be caught unaware if there is a surge.”

The Eureka Christian Health Outreach (ECHO) Clinic is also taking extra precautions. Co-founder Suzie Bell said the clinic, which offers free medical services to those in need, is only available for vaccinated residents of Carroll County. Some people stopped coming because of that requirement, Bell said, but others happily agreed to get vaccinated.

“As a health clinic, we need to set the standard so we did it,” Bell said. “We turned one lady down last clinic. She walked away and then about an hour later, she came back and said, ‘OK, I’m doing it,’ because she wanted to be safe. She wanted to get that healthcare.”

Bell said the clinic has given more than 4,000 vaccine shots over the past year, fully vaccinating more than 2,000 people. The clinic is always open for vaccinations if anyone is interested, Bell said.

“We’re a Christian clinic and it’s a big deal,” Bell said. “It’s all about health, but it’s also about taking care of your fellow man. That’s the right thing to do, to be considerate.”

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