The coronavirus pandemic is in many ways just beginning, but many of the East End’s lowest income families are also the most exposed when it comes to losing work and vital income needed to feed their children. Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center (BCCRC) has long endeavored to help families in the hamlet, who struggle even at the best of times, and these efforts are now more critical than ever.
Since this crisis started, the organization has mobilized to bring food and educational resources to families under their care, but the need is growing as more parents lose their jobs or are forced to stay home and care for children who are no longer able to attend school.
BCCRC Executive Director Bonnie Michelle Cannon says she and a limited staff, including some working remotely have already done much to relieve the pressure for local families through various programs, and they’re continuing to assess and expand their services. But they desperately need additional donations to sustain their work.
“I wanted to organize and plan first versus jumping at the gun, so I took a few days just to assess, and I’m still assessing. We have our after-school programs, we have our teens and our college students and their families, and then we have our seniors in the community, and then just the community at large,” Cannon explained on Friday. “We have about 38–40 families that are with us in our after-school programs. I put personal calls into each and every one of the families that attend and that I service at the center, just to find out how they’re doing.”
Cannon asked each family a series of three main questions, including how their income has been affected by the coronavirus and the resulting shutdowns, which have put many people out of work.
“I would say 80% of the families have been impacted income-wise. Some have lost income. The others have been one income down,” she says, pointing out that the need for childcare has forced one of two parents to stay home or, in the case of single-parent homes, made it impossible for the only earner to work.
The second thing she asked was whether these families were in need of food. “We give out food on a regular basis, but [I wanted to know] if they were in need of additional food,” Cannon notes, adding, “All of my families except for two said that yes, if you can provide food to us more regularly, yes we need that.”
Finally, because BCCRC is an education and community center, Cannon wanted to know what the kids were doing in school. “A lot of our kids have a gap in learning or they need extra help, and that’s what we do, so I wanted to find out what was going on with them,” she says. Several of them are/were at home, and while some schools have distributed Chromebooks to kids who need them, not all are so lucky. “Many of them, at least about 20 of them, did not have computers,” Cannon says. “We’re working on that.”
Additionally, several families who come to BCCRC don’t have internet access, which makes it much harder for their children to interface with the educational programs being employed in lieu of physically attending school. “They were given just paper packets,” Cannon says of these students, many of whom are Latino and cannot get help from their parents due to a language barrier.
The BCCRC staff has set up Zoom video conferencing links so teachers can interface with the kids that do have the Chromebooks, laptops or computers at home. Meanwhile, Altice has donated free 60-day internet access to the families who need it, and they’re working on getting those accounts set up. Cannon says she would also be getting more Chromebooks, but there are still plenty of kids who aren’t yet equipped for the new educational paradigm.
For those kids who can log in and learn, BCCRC is already providing lessons and extra help, and it’s working well. “We’ve got lesson plans where about five of my staff are working with kids at home for at least about three to four hours doing homework, and then they do reading,” Cannon says. “This month was spelling madness so they do flash cards, they do their homework, and then they do some sort of fun activity on the Scholastic app or something like that online.”
Teachers typically start around 12 p.m. and end around 3–4 p.m. Tuesday–Thursday, and then break the monotony with more fun activities on Friday, such as virtual museum tours, match driving games or virtual story time, where teachers read illustrated story books through the Zoom app. Cannon says she’s already received calls for grateful parents, so things appear to be going well.
Along with the education effort, BCCRC’s staff have been packing up bags with fresh produce, meats and other food from Island Harvest, Provisions in Sag Harbor and other donors, as well as breakfasts and lunches from the East Hampton schools. “We’re also putting in an activity kit packet in the bag, like crayons and construction paper or things so they have something to do at home when they aren’t online with us,” Cannon adds, noting that kids in their after-school program range in age from 5–13 years old.
“This is our first phase. This is what we’ve been able to get done now. Now I’m going into my second phase, which is to call my teens and my college students and their families to see what their needs are,” she says. “I have at least about 25 or 30 of those families that I’m going to be calling to see what their needs are. Then we’re going to add them to the list and put something together.”
She’s set up Zoom sessions with activities for the older teens and is still working on the programming. “Once we get that built, then we’ll go to seniors. But it’s a process and there’s definitely the need for financial support. I know that these families are going to be without—without food, without income,” Cannon says, describing her vision for a “Center stimulus plan—where we’re going to pass the money down to the families in some way so that they’re not hurting.”
Right now, because of the need for social distancing and limited gathering, Cannon has had to turn away would-be volunteers, and she’s even had problems with donated computers because there’s no one around to set them up. “Financial support is basically what we need,” she says matter-of-factly. “We’re going to do the right thing with whatever is given…It’s crazy times.”
They’ve received some nice donations since the coronavirus crisis took hold, but the people BCCRC serves are hurting, and they’re going to need more. “These are families that have at least three or more kids, and if the money’s not coming in, you’ve got to pay the rent, you’ve got to pay this bill, you’ve got to pay the other bill. You have to pay for food and all that kind of stuff. And God forbid if somebody gets sick—they need money. I’m just being real,” Cannon says.
That said, she notes that BCCRC is there for anybody who needs help. The center welcomes anyone in the community who needs food or special assistance to call them at 631-537-0616. If no one answers, leave a message. Cannon says they’ll get it and call you back.
Visit bhccrc.org to learn more and to donate.