Non-Profit Sees Destabilizing Effect of COVID-19 First-Hand in DC

February 16, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp
A Martha's Table volunteer. (Photo via Facebook)

WASHINGTON – Representatives from a DC non-profit say the coronavirus has severely increased the reliance of underprivileged communities on their services, which emphasizes the socially destabilizing impacts of the virus.

The DC neighborhoods around the headquarters of Martha’s Table, a local DC-based non-profit and volunteer center focused on family and community support, have seen high infection rates and spikes in unemployment, particularly in Wards 1 and 8, said assistant director of communications for Martha’s Table, Whitney Fashion, in an email interview. 

Fashion said that Martha’s Table currently supports as many as 2,000 people in a single day compared to about 2,000 per week before the pandemic. That is roughly a 400% increase in demand for healthy groceries in the DC area, suggesting that there is much more reliance on this sort of social program. 

“We [had to] increase distribution five-fold with just a fraction of the staff and volunteers to ensure we practiced social distancing. We also needed to transition from a choice-based shopping model for our guests to the distribution of pre-bagged groceries to eliminate the spread of germs,” Fashion said.

It has caused other problems as well. 

The program had to close its in-person education centers in Northwest and Southeast DC to focus on assisting about 100 families with distance learning. 

To combat the impact of coronavirus on neighborhoods in DC, Martha’s Table started a cash assistance program. 

Martha’s Table gave out more than $1.2 million to 137 families enrolled in its programs between March and July. They also gave out four-month supplies of essential baby care products and $164,000 in grocery store gift cards to those families. Of the families that got this assistance, 94% reported to Martha’s Table that they put the cash assistance towards housing and utilities, representatives of the organization said. 

The coronavirus has not impacted all communities equally. Recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control confirmed reports from advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign that warned that the coronavirus was having a calamitous impact on LGBTQ communities with an even more degrading impact on LGBTQ communities of color

Underlying risk factors and vulnerability to things like economic instability put these communities more at risk to severe coronavirus cases and to the destabilizing effects of the coronavirus generally.

Reports on the lethality and hospitalizations in the early months of the coronavirus outbreak showed that Black and Hispanic communities suffered about half of the deaths from coronavirus in the first half of 2020, as well as a disproportionate amount of the hospitalizations. 

This trend fits the observations worldwide about the impact of the coronavirus in worsening inequality.

A recent United Nations Development Program report stressed that the virus will “continue to discriminate against the most vulnerable,” relaying figures from the World Bank which suggest that 40-60 million people could be forced into extreme poverty by the virus, and figures from the World Food Program which suggest that 265 million people will be subjected to crisis-levels of hunger if nothing is done. 

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