With the coronavirus pandemic emptying store shelves and leaving critical items in short supply, the elderly have faced unique challenges stocking their homes with groceries, toiletries and other essentials.
In Nevada, Foster Kinship Executive Director Ali Caliendo raced between four different stores to find formula for her 8-month-old son over the weekend. But she knows many of the kinship families she works with don’t have that luxury of time or resources, and in this fast-breaking global crisis, they are at high risk of exposure the more public places they visit.
“It slowly dawned on me what we’re facing,” Caliendo said in a Facebook Live announcement of her new drive-up emergency supply lane she’s starting at the nonprofit she founded to serve relative caregivers in the Los Vegas area.
On Tuesday, Caliendo’s organization started dispensing free diapers, wipes and formula, items that are becoming harder to come by in vast swaths of the country according to accounts on social media. Kinship families can just pull up curbside and her team will deliver the supplies they need to their car.
“We’re going to make sure our grandmas and great-grandmas have what they need to take care of the kids in their home. I’m not going to let my grandmas drive all over town,” Caliendo said.
On the first day, Foster Kinship served about 30 children and their families, and on Wednesday morning Caliendo woke up to 25 requests from families looking for diapers, wipes, hygiene items, clothing and food.
“Kinship care is such a hidden population already and people don’t realize how many people are impacted by this,” Caliendo said. Her organization will run out of goods for donation in a week though, and is attempting to raise funds to build the supply back.
Stephanie Alsbury was one of the first to use the new drive-up emergency supply lane. Caring for her 3- and 9-year-old grandchildren, Alsbury was out of diapers and wipes and getting to the store with two children in tow was a chore, especially since they’ve been home sick with a stomach virus.
“It was really a blessing,” Alsbury said. “I get WIC [Women, Infants and Children], but I can’t use it because the stores are empty. I’m a single kinship parent – it’s just me. Having to take the kids to the store during this time is hard.”
More than 2.6 million children in the United States live with a relative, 2.4 million of them with grandparents, according to the U.S. Census. According to data collected in The Chronicle of Social Change’s Who Cares annual report, there were almost 140,000 children in the foster care system living with relatives in 2017, only a fraction of the number living with relatives informally. According to research by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute, compared to non-kin caregivers in the foster care system, relatives are more likely to be elderly, single, disabled, unemployed and struggling to get by on low incomes.
These vulnerabilities also make them more susceptible to contracting coronavirus and more vulnerable to its negative economic impacts. The CDC has recommended that people older than 60 and those with compromised immune systems isolate themselves from children and young people, which can also be impossible for relative caregivers.
In Nevada alone, there are 33,000 children in kinship care homes, according to information from Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Annual Kids Count Data Center.
In addition to addressing the immediate needs of children and families amid the coronavirus crisis, Caliendo’s team is also moving its training to an online platform so caregivers can complete licensing requirements and have access to support and resources. They had already been providing the training remotely for clients who lived too far away to make it to class, but now they’ll be teaching to an empty classroom and participants will be on Zoom video conferencing or on the phone. The first five-week remote class starts tonight.
Foster Kinship is just one kinship navigator program responding to the needs of relative caregivers across the country. National nonprofit Generations United, which supports intergenerational engagement and has been on the frontlines of supporting relative caregivers for years, has created national and state specific fact sheets that can be found on its website. They provide relative caregivers with information about resources in their specific area.
“Like our first responders, caregivers are the first line of defense for the children in their care,” Ana Beltran, special adviser for Generations United, stated in an email. “These grandfamilies can’t take a break from each other. We can, however, ensure they have access to accurate information to help them decrease their risk of exposure and illness.”