How two Fort Wayne organizations are evolving to meet ‘essential’ needs during the pandemic

Finding strength in resilience is how Fort Wayne became the “City that Saved Itself” during the flood of 1982. Now, amidst a global pandemic, many nonprofits are finding the determination to persevere and save each other again.

Since the pandemic began in mid-March, two local organizations have led the way in adapting their standard operations to meet the needs of “essential” employees and services, paving the way for others to follow.

Blue Jacket Inc.

Perseverance is at the core of Blue Jacket Inc. Since 2003, the nonprofit organization has provided training and opportunities to anyone facing barriers to gainful employment. So at the onset of the shelter-in-place order, when thousands of Fort Wayne area residents were suddenly without paychecks, Blue Jacket’s work became increasingly important.

Northeast Indiana reached a record-high unemployment rate in the first three weeks of the Coronavirus shutdown from March 15-April 4, seeing 42,279 new claims. In comparison, the region had fewer than 5,000 claims year-to-date prior to the pandemic.

Thus, it was clear to Blue Jacket’s Executive Director, Anthony Hudson, that while some programming would need to be paused to comply with safety procedures, there was also an opportunity to create jobs that provided new, necessary services to Fort Wayne's community. For example, “essential” nonprofits that needed to stay open during the pandemic would need certified COVID-19 cleaning and sanitization crews to keep their workspaces safe. Closed organizations would need deep cleans, too. 

Blue Jacket evolved its programs to offer COVID-19 cleaning services for other area nonprofits.

As such, Blue Jacket applied for grants to train crews and staff them to serve the community. They were awarded the first Innovative Rapid Response Grant by Foellinger Foundation. The City of Fort Wayne also recognized the importance of their efforts by including Blue Jacket as a recipient in the first phase of investment of Federal Funding by the CARES Act to provide deep cleaning and sanitization services to homeless shelters in the community.

As Director of Marketing for Blue Jacket, Brad Saleik says the organization has been very excited about where their cleaning service has redirected them as a business, along with everyone they have been able to help along the way.

“What has happened for us, and by extension through the services we were able to provide to so many nonprofits, has been amazing and truly inspiring to our organization,” Saleik says.

As of July, Blue Jacket’s COVID-19 cleaning program has provided jobs for 23 people, many of them 40-hours per week. So far, Blue Jacket has cleaned for 58 nonprofits, offering these organizations an estimated combined savings of $242,815, as determined by the number of hours served and competitive hourly rates charged by other cleaning services, Saleik says.

This week, Blue Jacket is extending its cleaning services, providing a week of free cleaning to Citilink buses, thanks to a gift of $2,565 it received through the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s #GivingTuesdayNow promotion for area nonprofits.

100+ Women Who Care

When the pandemic began, food scarcity and insecurity was a top concern for local residents. As such, local food banks found themselves tackling record-breaking distributions daily.

The Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana’s distribution alone grew 50 percent in the first two weeks of April, and it was an all hands-on deck effort to maintain services for families in need.

As Steering Committee Chair of an organization called 100+ Women Who Care, Wendy Moyle recognized this need as a call to action.

“We saw an opportunity to significantly impact operations and demand for the Community Harvest Food Bank,” Moyle says.

100+ Women Who Care is a nonprofit advocacy group made up of more than 190 members who meet quarterly to hear presentations from three randomly selected local nonprofits. The group then votes on an organization to receive its quarterly donation, which is made up of $100 multiplied by its number of members, plus a generous $10,000 donation from its community partner, Parkview Health.

The organization 100+ Women Who Care donated $30,000 to the Community Harvest Food Bank.

When it came to deciding how to handle the second quarter donation in 2020, the Steering Committee made an executive decision to select the Community Harvest Food Bank as the recipient and make donations from its own members voluntary.

Even so, many women in Fort Wayne continued to give, says Steering Committee Member Leslie Ferguson.

“At a time when many people were laid off themselves or were navigating their own personal, emotional, and financial challenges, it was heartwarming to see the solidarity this group showed for our community,“ Ferguson says.

Together, 100+ Women Who Care donated nearly $30,000 to the Community Harvest Food Bank at a time when the funding was desperately needed.

“As designated ‘first responders’ in disaster relief, it is essential for us to reach all pockets of food insecurity in households that COVID-19 has turned upside down,” Cumberland says. “This donation will have an enormous impact on kids, seniors, veterans, and families who desperately need assistance.”
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Read more articles by Jennifer Norris-Hale.

Jennifer Norris-Hale is a boomerang resident of Fort Wayne. She graduated from Indiana University with a degree in Apparel Merchandising and was in the apparel industry for over 10 years, spending most of that time building a career in Manhattan. Since returning to Fort Wayne in 2015 she has continued developing her true passion in philanthropy as the founder of The Greater Good Fort Wayne. She is a board member for Middle Waves and the Youth Services Bureau. Most importantly, she is a mother of three boys and truly enjoys getting them out and about to enjoy all that Fort Wayne has to offer.