As the temperature drops this winter, so may the availability of supplies for homeless shelters in Alachua and Marion counties.
Since spring, donation guidelines have been modified at shelters in north central Florida, depending on resources and staff size, to protect occupants from contracting COVID-19. These guidelines make it difficult for shelters to accept used or unpackaged new donations, contributing to a shortage — a problem many were already facing before COVID-19.
“We don’t have the staff and machinery to wash every piece of clothing that gets donated,” said Lauri Schiffbauer, executive director of St. Francis House. “Because of that, we usually have to refer people to another shelter when they want to donate clothing. This is going to make collecting items like blankets and coats in the winter challenging because they are usually pretty expensive.”
She said St. Francis House’s board of directors chose to follow the CDC’s recommended guidelines for donations, so it will be only be accepting unopened items and clothing in its initial packaging.
To help the shelter prepare for winter under these circumstances, Schiffbauer encourages donors to send items from its Amazon wish list, or to bring in nonperishable food items between 7 a.m. and noon to St. Francis House in downtown Gainesville at 413 S. Main St.
GRACE Marketplace in Alachua County chose a different approach to handling donations. The shelter has suspended all kinds of donations and is closed to the public until further notice because of COVID-19, according to their website. Instead, the shelter’s website encourages donors to help out in other ways such as purchasing items from its Amazon wish list, donating via credit card or sponsoring a meal for shelter guests.
Some items listed on GRACE Marketplace’s website as immediate needs include blankets, jackets, deodorant and razors. Without these items, cold weather will be especially challenging for the people housed here.
The Arnette House in Marion County, which provides emergency youth shelter, has also chosen to suspend all clothing donations for the time being. However, they are currently accepting used towels and sheets because they are easy to wash, according to Outreach Community Coordinator Cindy Moore.
“We’re in good shape until winter,” she said.
Moore said Arnette House is hoping to accept used clothing donations again in November to prepare for cold weather, but this decision is based on whether the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services sees a decline in COVID-19 cases in the area. Arnette House’s board of directors will also weigh in on the decision.
“We’re mostly concerned about getting enough coats, towels and hygiene products like shampoo and toothpaste,” she said.
A list of donation items needed and a form to send monetary donations can be found on the house’s website.
Arnette House had to suspend traditional fundraisers due to COVID-19 concerns. Moore said these fundraisers usually make up most of the house’s budget, so the lack of donations is troubling. Health concerns also caused Arnette House to decrease its capacity by 50%.
St. Francis House did not have to decrease its capacity due to the recent increase in availability of COVID-19 testing in Alachua County, according to Schiffbauer. Prior to this, new shelter guests were instructed to quarantine before moving in. Still, new COVID precautions are in place, including moving meal service outdoors to a tarp-covered area behind the building.
Schiffbauer said that throughout the month, employees from local shelters will be meeting with Alachua County representatives via Zoom to discuss how the county can allocate money to help shelters prepare for the winter. The first meeting took place Thursday.
“We need support with getting supplies under these circumstances,” she said.
Some items Schiffbauer was most concerned about getting were mattresses, cleaning supplies and garbage bags.
“Without cleaning supplies, we can’t even wipe down the unopened items that were donated for our guests,” she said.
She said a personal goal of hers is to be able to provide homeless families with a holiday meal around Thanksgiving and Christmastime. This is something the shelter is usually able to do every year but may struggle with this year because of the recent changes in donation requirements.
In the past, sponsors would give the families meals and gifts. However, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, St. Francis House is looking for unopened gifts and turkeys to donate to families in the next couple of months.
“I know the little boys here really like the automated race car toys,” she said.
All kinds of unopened toy and craft donations are encouraged to provide the shelter’s children with holiday gifts.
COVID-19 may make gathering supplies for the winter season more difficult for the homeless population in Alachua and Marion County. An increase in new and unopened coat, blanket and food donations to local shelters would help those in need get through these challenging times.