While REALTORS® are on the front lines of keeping housing alive and pushing for financial relief during the coronavirus crisis, some also are in the background, fighting against tall odds to deliver food, shelter, and health care to the most vulnerable citizens. Many past Good Neighbors—members recognized by the National Association of REALTORS® for extraordinary community service—have adapted their charities to meet the changing needs of their neighborhoods as the COVID-19 outbreak takes a turn for the worse in the U.S.
Stay-at-home orders in several states, as well as general social distancing guidelines and food shortages, are proving difficult for many charities to maneuver. But Kay Wilson-Bolton, a broker-associate at Century 21 Everest in Santa Paula, Calif., and a 2017 Good Neighbor, remains dedicated to serving the homeless—some of the most at-risk of contracting the virus—through her charity, SPIRIT of Santa Paula. Wilson-Bolton’s organization runs an emergency shelter and a food bank, and it feeds up to 800 people every week. “Critics suggest that [my staff] should stay home and that we should close the shelter,” she says. “Well, the shelter is home for the homeless, and two of my best staff people live there.”
Wilson-Bolton helps to distribute 30,000 pounds of food per month through her charity’s food bank. Last Wednesday, “our hardworking food pantry and food bank volunteers kept over 500 families—1,000-plus people—fed” and away from grocery stores, a potential danger zone for coronavirus because of hordes of shoppers, she says. Wilson-Bolton is safeguarding the shelter by taking people’s temperature before they enter, and she is hoping volunteers can reach more people by delivering meals.
Pam Harrison, a sales associate with RE/MAX Executive in Millersville, Md., and a 2016 Good Neighbor honorable mention, continues supporting the Anne Arundel County Food Bank during this time. The organization, which serves thousands of people a month, is asking for volunteers to order food online and have it shipped to the food bank directly. Since last week, the food bank has collected more than $6,000 in donations to purchase food for vulnerable families. “We have come upon more people in need of help with the closings of local businesses and as closures increase,” Harrison says. “We are also starting a mobile fundraiser in which people can text to donate.”
Sal Dimiceli, a 2017 Good Neighbor and founder of The Time Is Now to Help in Lake Geneva, Wis., says he’s more committed now than ever to the nonprofit he founded, which eases the suffering of people living in poverty. The organization responds to a variety of requests from the poor, including for food, housing, and transportation. For example, Dimiceli’s charity has been called on to provide food to children whose parents had to be quarantined at a local hospital for COVID-19. The charity is also delivering meals to children who normally would have received them at school.
These real estate pros acknowledge the challenges to their charities amid the current environment, and they are searching for ways to keep serving their causes. Jeremy Lichtenstein, a sales associate at RE/MAX Realty Services in Bethesda, Md., and a 2018 Good Neighbor, was told by his organization’s main food supplier that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it would not be able to fill this month’s food order for the charity. Lichtenstein, founder of Kids in Need Distributors, feeds more than 2,100 children in the Washington, D.C., area through his organization. With schools now closed, the needs are growing even greater to supply more food. “We found an alternative supplier to provide the food and a fellow nonprofit that could receive and store the order for volunteers to come take it and deliver the food,” Lichtenstein says.
Wilson-Bolton says that some food banks have had to close due to a shortage of supplies, causing more requests for aid to come to her organization. Her message to the public is to stop hoarding goods because, Wilson-Bolton says, it’s hurting charities. “I go to the same store every Tuesday to buy what I need in bulk for [my charity]—12 of this and 12 of that. The store has now limited me to two of everything. I explained why I was buying so much. But I had to drive 10 miles to a different store to get what I needed,” she says. Wilson-Bolton says her charity has been forced to order more supplies at one time than it can afford in order to stay adequately stocked. “Our finances are really taxed,” she adds.
Dale Taylor, a sales associate at RE/MAX 10 in New Lenox, Ill., and a 2019 Good Neighbor, serves South Suburban PADS, a homeless shelter just outside Chicago. Taylor says he's proud of the way the volunteers and staff have quickly adjusted. SSPADS oversees many overnight homeless shelters in churches and houses of worship during the winter months. As these shelters close to keep crowds of people from congregating during the coronavirus outbreak, SSPADS is placing the homeless in hotels. Taylor says it’s a great strain on their finances. “We continue to work as a team to do the best we can to ensure services continue,” Taylor says.
To follow uplifting stories about how REALTORS® volunteer in their communities, including combating the impact of COVID-19, “like” the NAR Facebook page REALTORS® are Good Neighbors.