We should celebrate one more type of frontline worker

Nashville Rescue Mission (Photo from website)
Nashville Rescue Mission (Photo from website)

There’s one type of frontline worker that isn’t getting enough attention these days. The nonprofit service worker.

Even as stay-at-home orders are being lifted, the economic impacts of coronavirus have hit Tennesseans hard. In fact, 12 percent of our workforce – nearly 400,000 Tennesseans – are unemployed due to coronavirus. We’re also still dealing with fallout from the recent tornadoes.

Nonprofit service providers – and the remarkable people behind them – have become essential to our survival. Fortunately, we have some amazing organizations that are addressing some of our most urgent challenges and helping so many of us navigate the uncertainty and hard times that we face.

Safe housing is always a concern, but the need is on the rise right now. The small but mighty team at Nashville Rescue Mission is helping more than 800 homeless clients with housing, especially for those at risk of COVID-19 complications and who are otherwise forced into close quarters in shelters.

Even more Tennesseans are at risk of losing their homes because they are unable to pay their mortgages. The heroes at Affordable Housing Resources are working with Lee Chapel to help homeowners hang onto their houses after the tornado and economic collapse by acting as intermediaries between banks and homeowners.

Food insecurity has been on the rise as well, but groups like United Way are providing both cash and food boxes to those in need. They previously distributed an average of 500 boxes a month. They are now distributing 400-500 every single day.

“One woman asked whether we possibly had toilet paper for her box,” CEO Marsha Edwards said. “She cried when we said yes.’

Nashville Food Project
Nashville Food Project

Nashville Food Project is delivering meals to tornado clean-up volunteers and electricity repairmen. They are also serving 800 meals a week to tornado victims and 100 food boxes to hospitality workers and others who have lost their jobs.

The YMCA of Middle Tennessee had to lay off 3,450 employees because of financial loss due to COVID-19. But they are doing what they can with their core staff of 122 by working with local hospitals and the state to transform seven of their facilities into Emergency Response Centers. This allows them to provide emergency food boxes to families and childcare for essential workers.

And perhaps, most overlooked is the population of former prisoners. They are being released in the midst of this pandemic with no job prospects and are ineligible for unemployment. Project Return has found a creative way to employ these individuals by hiring them to disinfect buildings and workplaces from coronavirus, so that we can all return to work safer.

Of course, none of this is possible without the philanthropic support that funds these good deeds. The Frist Foundation, among many others, has done so much to support projects like these. This generous financial support has empowered these nonprofits and in turn, empowered the people they serve.

Many Americans and politicians continue to debate what government should or shouldn’t do in response to problems like these and whether there should be more aid from Washington. But perhaps the best solution lies in looking at what we are capable of on our own. As these examples show, when philanthropists, nonprofit leaders, and workers partner together, we can meet so many immediate needs.

As we rightly celebrate our healthcare workers, first responders, grocery workers, and others, let’s not forget the vital role of nonprofits and the amazing men and women who haven’t stopped giving back to our communities. Together, they are making life better for those who need it most.