Area nonprofits see increased community needs as holidays approach

It was like an Advent calendar, except every day an item was added to a box, not removed.

Canned fruit went into the box Dec. 1. Laundry detergent went in Dec. 3. Skip ahead to Dec. 9, and girls-size 2T clothing went into the box. By Dec. 21, the box was filled with a variety of items and delivered to a local nonprofit organization that turned its offices into emergency pantries for drop-in residents in need.

“We have one office that’s an emergency food pantry, another that is a cleaning supply pantry, a toiletries pantry and a baby pantry — with diapers and formula — to help newborn moms,” said Josh Jasper, president and CEO of Resources Unite.

Jasper posted the idea for a donation Advent calendar on social media on Nov. 30, then watched as items began filling the agency’s office at 1900 John F. Kennedy Road.

“It was a simple thing, if people were going grocery shopping, they could pick up some baby wipes and put them in the box,” Jasper said. “People started stopping in every day with boxes.”

Those filled boxes filled the ad-hoc emergency pantries Jasper’s agency created for people in need.

“Those are necessities that are critical for many people,” Jasper said.

The collected items in the emergency pantries will be available through Friday, Dec. 24, for local residents in need.

In addition to the Advent-pantry initiative, Jasper said his agency saw an increase in such need this holiday season. Resources Unite coordinates a holiday program that links donated items to children in need, with local individuals and businesses sponsoring the children.

“Last year, we served just over 1,000 kids,” Jasper said. “We’re nearing 1,150 (kids) this year and I have a feeling that number will grow.”

This coming Christmas marks the second with COVID-19’s impact in the community.

“On the giving side we’ve all been impacted by COVID,” Jasper said. “Some of our companies who historically sponsored 25 to 50 kids are taking a few less, but what has happened though, is that other companies who have never sponsored kids before have stepped in. It’s been really incredible that way.”

Bryce Parks, local Toys For Tots coordinator, said his initiative reached more children this year — despite limiting its Dubuque distribution point to a single location, the Multicultural Family Center.

“We served about 2,000 kids and we expected to serve about a thousand,” Parks said. “We served 5,300 kids in our four-county area (Dubuque County, Clayton County, Grant County and East Dubuque in Jo Daviess County). Last year, we served about 5,100. I thought we would do less with fewer points of distribution.”

Parks provided Resources Unite with a load of toys at the conclusion of the scheduled distribution at the Multicultural Family Center.

“Bryce brought toys organized by gender and ages, so anybody who fell through the cracks — who didn’t benefit from any other holiday program, we can put together four gifts for them based on their gender,” Jasper said.

Danielle Peterson, president and CEO of United Way of Dubuque Area Tri-States, said food remains a pressing issue for many local families.

“There is still a lot of food scarcity,” Peterson said. “We’ve been directing people to (Dubuque Area) Labor Harvest and the food pantries.”

Peterson said agencies also have been directing people in need to resources that help address mental health, also known as brain health, issues.

“We know that anxiety and depression often peak at the holidays, and with COVID-19, it has become more difficult for people to handle,” she said.

Such issues also impact staff members of agencies assisting families.

“A lot of people in our nonprofit community are emotionally tapped out,” Peterson said. “Staff are doing so much on the front lines to help in the community.”