The Not Unreasonable Podcast

How COVID Hits the Poor with Jennifer Brady

March 25, 2020 David Wright Episode 45
The Not Unreasonable Podcast
How COVID Hits the Poor with Jennifer Brady
Show Notes Transcript

My guest for this episode is Jennifer Brady, Executive director of Oasis, a non-profit helping women, teens and children rise out of poverty in the greater Paterson, NJ, area, one of the poorest communities in New Jersey. 

We cover how the lockdown is leading to record-breaking demand for meal support from Oasis, how much more vulnerable this population is to disease, both because of their physical circumstances and because, believe it or not, it is only one among many life threatening things to worry about, what the political implications might be if COVID-19 becomes a disease of the poor and, of course, what we can all do to help.

show notes at


David Wright:   0:00
My guest today is Jennifer Brady, executive director of Oasis, a nonprofit helping women, teens and Children rise out of poverty in the Greater Paterson, New Jersey, area. Jen, welcome to the show.

Jennifer Brady:   0:43
Thanks, David.

David Wright:   0:44
The topic I want to cover today is covert 19 and its current and potential impact on the poorer communities. Before we get to that, though, I'd liketo see if you could just tell us a little bit about Oasis and its mission and activities.

Jennifer Brady:   0:56
Sure, of course. We were founded as an anti heather hunter agency, so there was nowhere in Paterson where women could bring their Children to be dead. So that was really the genesis of Oasis. And that's kind of where we find ourselves again during the covert 19 crisis. But over the years, we've evolved into an educational institution, So our goal is to provide women and Children with educational resource is they need, whether that's getting a high school diploma in English, becoming a citizen, computer training and workforce development training. To, ah, complimenting the work that's being done in the schools in Paterson so that we can help our Children achieve grade level, learn English properly. Meet that divide that happens between impoverished inner city schools and urban schools around us here. So our goal is really to have the women and Children not need us as a resource for food anymore, but be able to become self self petition and not rely on government resources? To you know, to create brighter futures, actually.

David Wright:   2:02
So what is the typical circumstances in which a family would first come into your your system? You're into one of your programs?

Jennifer Brady:   2:11
Yeah, so often a woman will come to us initially because she's hungry. She doesn't have food to put on our table for her women and for her family. So she'll come here with their kids to our soup kitchen that she will talk to our social workers and she will realise, on the floors above her, there are classrooms where women are changing the trajectory of their lives through education. Um, and what's different about always is back. We provide all of the wraparound service's that would prevent a woman from achieving self deficiencies that you can't go to class to get your high school equivalency degree. If you have two babies and you don't have child care and you're already living on $16,000 a year, which is the average household income of the family there do we provide free childcare food from our food pantry, clothing, diapers, obviously breakfast and lunch in our soup kitchen every day. And then once that woman gets a job, we provide free after school programs so that we go to the local schools. We pick up the kids, we bring them here and we keep them here till six o'clock, giving them academic instruction so that it's really a very holistic program. It's not just one stop shop. It is one stop shopping. It's not just come and get your G d. But you have to find somewhere toe put your kids and you're gonna be sitting in your class worried about how are you going to feed your family at night? We take away all of those stumbling block that prevent the population in particular from from rising up.

David Wright:   3:39
So this $16,000 year typical income for them. Where does that come from? What sort of work are these women doing?

Jennifer Brady:   3:48
Mostly hourly wage jobs. Whether you know, home health Aide uh, cleaning service is landscaping factory work. So mostly minimum wage. You know, factory jobs, hourly wage jobs. That's where most of the women that come to us who are working fall. The Paterson is a city of about 100 and 50,000 residents and 50,000 of them. So that's 1/3 of them are living below the federal poverty line so that 46% of the Children in Paterson lived below the federal poverty line that say that's 1/2 of the Children in this city. So it's a city of immigrants. Um, it's always been a city of immigrants. It used to be the Irish and Italians, and now it's the Peruvians and Dominicans. And, um, you know, we've got women in our classes here. It always just 28 different countries. So it's really a little bit of a model U N We've got going here, but they have one thing in common. They all want better lives for their families, and they're willing to work really hard for it.

David Wright:   4:57
So just in that initial description, I hear a lot of things that concern me. Given the state of the world right now COVID-19. Um, you know, not least employment would be a problem for these women. And then, of course, this this question of how what happens if you actually contract the disease? Covid-19? Um, tell me about Are you are you seeing evidence of the of the pandemic in Paterson?

Jennifer Brady:   5:29
Immediately, we saw evidence of the pandemic, and we did it really quickly to meet those needs so hourly hourly. Even last week, before, um, everything was put in place, you know, the no, no, stay at home order. Um, we went from serving about 120 kneels at lunch Thio. On Friday, we served 368 meals, obviously, as a grab and go. We're no longer wealthy welcoming families, interested kitchen, but our social workers. They're handing out the meals to the families. So we we based almost quadruples number of families that were coming to us for meals. But even more telling and more importantly, on in an average months, we give out about between 152 100 food bags and those air food bags meant for to sustain a family for 2 to 3 days. Um, so on 11 day again on Friday the 20th we gave out 150 food bags. That's what we normally do in a month. We did it in one day on that. That's because this population there, those that have the least suffer the most when something like this takes place there. The hourly wage workers, they're the first to be let go from their jobs. They have no have no income saved. Um, and unlike our family, you know, we could easily survive on you know what's in our pantry. We can stock up on two weeks worth of food without missing too much of a beat, right? My mother has probably a month Forsythe Pantry Right now, these families were living day to day. They're coming to a on a regular basis and saying I have nothing to eat tonight. So the idea of going to the grocery store and stocking up on food for a couple of weeks while their kids are out of school and possibly not getting the school lunches that you know they were getting in school. Um, and the resource is they're they're really very behind the eight ball. I'll tell you a quick story. We usually served just women and Children and our third day in on Wednesday. Are you sitting down in the kitchen and our social workers air handing out the meals, and a man walked up to the door and said, I know you only serve women, but would you please help me and my son? And so of course we said, Of course

David Wright:   7:58
what are you gonna say

Jennifer Brady:   7:59
exactly. And, uh, Jenni Vega, one of our social workers, handed him two meals and he literally broke down crying. He said, My son and I have had nothing to eat, and I didn't know what to do. So this thing is typical of what we're seeing here on. It's on a daily basis. So now we're serving then, Um, of course, because there's there's a lot of single fathers. There's a lot of you know, there's a lot of men who are coming to our door now and saying We don't know where to turn.

David Wright:   8:29
And the primary driver of this right now is these people have lost their jobs. Is that right?

Jennifer Brady:   8:36
Yes, the primary driver is that they've lost their jobs, whether they're landscapers or they work in someone's home and the housekeeper or even home health aides, particularly factory workers. A lot of these businesses now have closed. So yesterday, even though it was sort of, Ah, rainy and snowy March day, we still had record numbers of of families coming to us. Um, and they're not just coming, you know, for food. They also you know, not everyone knows it, But if you're on food stamps with which most of our families are eligible for food stamps, um, you can't buy diapers. So on a normal in a normal month, we usually give out between Ah 100 about 175 packs of diapers to our families here. Um, on Friday again, we gave out 101 102 packs of the diapers. So we're all worried about where we're getting toilet paper, but we can afford toilet paper. It's just a matter of being able to act at the's families, whether they can access it or not, they can't afford it.

David Wright:   9:47
So we're recording this on Tuesday, March 24th and so we're kind of entering week two of of a pretty serious lock down. When did you first see evidence of of these problems? Who is it Last week to start or

Jennifer Brady:   10:04
it was interesting last week. It was the first week that we really you know, everyone started to realize the gravity of what we were dealing with. And every single day last week, from Monday to Tuesday, the one say that their state of Friday the number of people coming to us doubled every single day. We expect that the level out in the weeks to come as other resources become available. But we also are in a precarious position here because as

David Wright:   10:32
a nonprofit, we're

Jennifer Brady:   10:33
not a government agency. We have only 4% government funding. Um, we've had to cancel our gala on our golf having with our biggest revenue drivers. Right now, we're providing more service. Is your community with less resources? So it's really, you know, it's something we're paying a lot of attention to. And, you know, we've been able to do it to date with ah ah, lot of generosity from the community, which is very heartening to see that even in this time when people are hunkering down and care about the poor among them.

David Wright:   11:06
And I'm gonna come back to that, actually, but before before returned to the to the side of the donors and kind of the social environment on that end, how about the health? So are you seeing evidence of the of the disease itself or other health problems that are emerging amongst the community

Jennifer Brady:   11:23
we have? We have not seen it too much. It's always interesting to me that when you work with impoverished communities, their features are not generally always the fears of the larger population because they're so worried about the hierarchy of basic needs and how they're going to address food shelter, um, for their families today So it's really just in the past couple days that we've seen clients coming to us wearing the math, worry, worried about it, actually implementing social distancing measures. So a little bit behind the purple there, I think one of the big differences, uh, that's a challenge for this population also is they don't have access to health care. You know most of them are uninsured, so they would generally utilize, you know, free health clinic that might be available. Michel's here in Paterson, which are obviously closed, or they would utilize an emergency room. That's dangerous hospital in Paterson, which you can't get near right now. So it's going to be a real challenge for this community. Where did they go? Have it. How did they get the resources they need to get tested if they don't have transportation and can't drive? Thio Ah, local testing site. I I would expect and I'm no expert here, but I would expect the ripple effect that we're gonna that we're going to hit the community in the weeks and months ahead to come or gone today, um, we're gonna have huge implications for the

David Wright:   13:00
has a have you see Evan experience with other diseases of any sort affecting large groups of people. That oasis serving you with the organization involved for a fairly long time, you know? Has it? Has it ever kind of You ever seen something go through that community? I mean, it could have been one of the prior, um, you know, flu epidemics. Say, like, H one n one or something, perhaps. Or anything at all. I mean, sometimes you just see ever to get sick at once.

Jennifer Brady:   13:28
Yeah. What we find in this community is, um there is a lot of there is a lot of illness. There's a lot of health related illnesses, particularly as not is a huge issue. But again, when when their child hasn't as an attack, they go to ST Joe's, they go to the emergency room. So even those those types of illnesses that families might be dealing with aside from covert 19 they're they're still really event for our families. But again, they're gonna lack the during a lack of the medical resources to address,

David Wright:   14:03
and they probably aren't gonna get tested so that in so many ways, these folks are outside of the statistics and then probably will continue to be so I would think

Jennifer Brady:   14:11
exactly. Yes, exactly. We won't. We won't know who had it here, right? We won't have accurate number.

David Wright:   14:18
And so very quickly. It was something that's contagious. It would seem that everybody might get it.

Jennifer Brady:   14:23
It's absolutely possible. Yes. And if you're living, you know, in an apartment building, you know, it's a two bedroom apartment with eight or 10 members of your family, which is what we see on a regular basis way. Know this to be true. Multigenerational uncles, the aunts have all come over together. Um, it can go through fan. It could devastate families. Could go through a household very quickly.

David Wright:   14:46
Yeah, that's one thing

Jennifer Brady:   14:46
having the cleaning products, you know, I've got a box of Clorox wipes on my desk right now, and probably two or three at home

David Wright:   14:54
and you're going through.

Jennifer Brady:   14:56
I'm going, I'm going. I'm I'm having a great time with them. Yeah, but Pierrot and cleaning products, they're they're not available. Thio there's there's not disposable income for those types of items.

David Wright:   15:08
So it seems to me that all the measures that the CDC and Ah, and all the relevant authorities and our society of prescribing for us are things that that that we can use, Jen. But it that's one thought that I had here was that that not everybody can actually even implement that stuff. And so it would seem to me then, that if we as kind of like, think of us as a herd or a population of people, if, let's say 60% of us, the richest 60% which is a lot of people can do it. But then the other 40% simply cannot. Will it be effective, right? I mean, in this community just seems to social distancing cleaning, you know, surfaces, not kind of thing that just issues were much less able to actually implement. Yeah, there's there's

Jennifer Brady:   15:58
real disparity in terms of what the community here is going to be capable of doing in terms of being proactive, to prevent the spread of it, Um, and again that that will eventually have an effect on the rest of our communities. There's no doubt about it. You can't get around it.

David Wright:   16:15
No, and and as you said, although even to these folks, when you can't eat for a day protecting yourself from Cove it 19 is actually a luxury that I mean, if you're not eating, then then you have more important concerns. And so it may be it is perfectly rational for them to not worry about the mask in the pure El and me. And that's nice for you rich folks. But we gotta get food today,

Jennifer Brady:   16:38
right? You're You're absolutely right. And I think, you know, we see that in on a normal day and that, you know, that sort of a model of Oasis is let's address those needs so you can studying and get your g e d and get a job. But now, with a totally different since landscaper look, we're talking about right

David Wright:   16:57
there's that There's one train of thought that I've followed a little bit in the in the news and the press, and the kind of the people that talk on TV is that there might be a shift, a political shift in our society as a result of this, particularly if it goes on for a long time, and not one that might be entirely pleasant, right, in the sense that if people become, let's say, there's a similar shift towards towards self preservation in the face of a disease. For for the higher income brackets of society, they will become potentially less concerned with everybody else. You're more concerned about yourself, and one of the things that I'm wondering to get your reaction to is how you think the if, for example, we have poor groups of people. And let's say that that cove it really begins to affect the poor communities of Paterson, places like Detroit or certain poor suburbs of Chicago or L. A or something. And then maybe we can become, ah, disease farm or impactful to the poorer communities. I haven't seen anybody talk about this, but it seemed to be very plausible. And what happens to people's perception of those communities? I mean, it's worrying. Should we worry about this? Um, I overreacted.

Jennifer Brady:   18:04
I No, I think you should be worried about it. I think it's too new in this pandemic for people to be talking about it, although it and I haven't heard anything coming out of other countries about that. But the disparity between the rich and the poor will become greater right. People will stop giving to these communities. They may. They may stop coming to these communities. They shun these communities because the illness was here because people are not capable of caring for themselves the way the other people you know other in our wealthier suburbs here can care for themselves. So it could increase that gap between the rich and the poor, which I have to tell you it's just tracked. It's tragic for our Children here who you know, who want everything that my own Children want out of life. Um, but because they're born into this code instead of 1 10 digits away, it almost 10. It can be a dooming scenario

David Wright:   19:04
right now. The primarily the effect is is through the unemployment. And so you're seeing Ah, you know, you mentioned earlier that in spite of the fact that you aren't able to go through your normal routines with donors, you're not our How are the donor's reacting? How is the giving group within the Richard community? Ah, responding to this I mean, the employment side of things alone is an enormous shock to this group, much less a health one as well. So tell me about that.

Jennifer Brady:   19:33
Yeah. So, weighing an initial Ah ah ah! Very boot booing response. from the community in terms of, you know, almost 100% of the food bags that were giving out our food drives that people are doing, which is tremendous on the economic. The economics of it is is we'll know more in the weeks to come. The initial responses we have to help always so always can help these people. Of course, we're all feeling generous right now. We're all feeling like, Oh my God, I'm blessed that I have been home to live in and I'm safe. And I could stay home from my job for two weeks and work remotely. But if we can get in front of people and show them the faces of the people who aren't in that situation A it gives us something her attitude like you've never had. Right? Um, be what we have seen people reaching out and wanting to help. You know what the market's doing? The weeks ahead with the, you know, with economic indicators are that could certainly change. And should that change, we worry that we won't be healer here in the future to address these needs.

David Wright:   20:44
What? How do you normally see donors? The donor? Let's call it the response or or their generosity. What is normally react to what would you You know the news out in the markets. I assume if they go up, then people become wealthier. And so they would donate more. That seem to be something that would case or any other drivers of donation intensity for For Oasis, do you recognize?

Jennifer Brady:   21:05
Yeah, in the bull market. Certainly. Help. Bear market's gonna have an effect, no doubt. Uh, you know, when one of the things that tends to speak to our donors during a typical of course the business is, uh, the work that we're doing to supplement the educational system here in Paterson. So when we can tell the story of a kid whose parents brought them here from Colombia when they were two years old, Mom and Dad still don't speak English. But this kid wants to go to Rutgers or N Y u. And they want better for their lives. And we need to help him when we're getting in the tutoring. And we're giving the mess 80 craft and we're going to get this kid to where they are. When we tell those stories, I think again it engenders a sense of gratitude that these are things that many Children in our nation have. Activists thio that Children and inner city impoverished areas like Patterson typically do not. So the idea that we can absolutely, as a village change the future for these kids by giving them a chance but giving them the educational opportunities that they deserve. That's something that speaks volumes thio to our donors. Um, I would also say when we can tell the story of a mom who dropped out of high school 10 years ago but now wants to be a role model to her child and come back and get her diploma and go on to community college and to become a nurse or, you know, a phlebotomist when we could tell those stories, you know, desert these air. He's a real stories. These were women and Children who are coming to us who want to pull themselves up. They work really hard, and sometimes just by virtue of getting out of betting, getting here, they deserve a round of applause for everything else that's going on in their lives. Um, but thes air people who have, you know, deep challenges already and through covert 19. On top of it, Um, you know, we've we've stopped all our classes. We've moved to remote learning like the rest of the community of the country has on. I think that's something that there's, um, noting as well. Our Children don't have computers. The idea of distance learning doesn't really exist. Maybe there's a household member with a cellphone with a camera on it. That's that. They conduce that. But what happened in Paterson, as opposed to our wealthier communities, is these kids got a packet on the last day of school, and they're expected to go home and figure out howto how to do it with no help. But it was very possibly a parent who never liked school past fourth or fifth grade, very often with a parent who doesn't speak English in the house. So the idea that these kids can't sit home with a tac it and do the work and learn it again if we keep saying it. But the disparity in the educational system is gonna grow here as well, because of having the kids out of school for so long.

David Wright:   24:11
It's it really is. I mean, of course, even as you're talking there. I hadn't even occurred to me directly. But I feel embarrassed to say, Of course, you know my kids. My wife is is homeschooling my kids right now, literally this moment and and and even then educated person, right? She's, uh, you know, there's a very, very good health mentally, physically. Just find it training and difficult. And if you have, if you have layering on any other burden to that, I mean, you just just don't have the energy to focus on anything. Um, that's that's kind of, you know, higher up the hierarchy of needs, right? I mean, you're worried about putting food on the table or or surviving for another week. You're not going to be kind of trying to figure out a math problem for your kid. And as much as you believe that's important and of course you will. It's it's like, What do you got? Take care of First, it's all comes down to that. Well,

Jennifer Brady:   25:02
you don't speak English. Yeah, we're gonna read homework to begin with. Well, uh, that's that's gonna be That's something that's gonna, you know, the ripple effect of that is gonna be years and years of dealing with it here.

David Wright:   25:16
So looking, looking ahead a little bit. How What do you What are your feelings about the coming days, weeks and months.

Jennifer Brady:   25:25
It's gonna be a long haul. Here it will. It will. You know, right now, our priority here, it always is, is giving the families the food do you need so that they can survive this, um, the bouncing back economically, there were over will be layers and layers of challenges. There were hoping for some help from the government. Dared, you know, certainly the keep our families in their homes in the months to come.

David Wright:   25:51
Yeah, right

Jennifer Brady:   25:53
way we struggled with that. Here we have 85 employees at Oasis. And how long are we going to be a little thio pail under full time employees? Whether they're, you know, whether they're working from home or working here because there are family, right? Their immediate family here. But we have very half of our workforce is from Patterson, and very many of them live paycheck to paycheck. So how how long can we stay in this year? We will absolutely stay open and feed this community and provide whatever resources we can for as long as we can. And I'm certainly not anticipating opening up our educational programs until next September. The soonest at this point.

David Wright:   26:42
Yeah. And for the precautions for the staff and for yourself. Ah, obviously, the thing that could hurt you most is if you folks get sick. Um, how are you? What? What sort of protocols are you taking? A temp lawyer. Who's for whom? People are not staying home and cannot. Right? Right.

Jennifer Brady:   27:03
So we've got, um we've we've doubled up on our maintenance staff who were coming in early and staying late to clean and sanitize the building. No communities, no community members are actually coming into the building past a little barrier that we've set up, which is a six foot barrier. So we are social workers are sliding the food across the table to the families. Um, wearing, you know, protective measures, failed math gloves change will frequently sanitizing, um, way, set it up pretty well to be able to handle it. Um, our kitchen staff doesn't come out of the kitchen, so there's no contamination there were cleaning everything as it comes into the building on our administrative staff on. Our teachers are mostly working remotely, and if they have to come in the second and third floors for staff only, there's no community members coming up to the classrooms. So we're like everybody else. You know, we're doing our best toe safeguard against any employees. I'm getting correct.

David Wright:   28:13
How about within the broader community of nonprofits? I don't know to what degree there's a network or you keep in touch with folks equivalent roles to you in other places. Any sense for for any other stories that are emerging that that, um, you're watching or thinking about?

Jennifer Brady:   28:29
Yeah, you know something again. You know, I guess Mister Rogers said, Look for the helpers, right talking about. But particularly in the Paterson community, I think the nonprofit leaders have come together. We're having regular conference calls we're trying not to duplicate efforts were trying Thio stay on top of best practices, and how can we tap into the community food bank of of New Jersey? How can we source better? How can we meet the needs of this community and try to step? You keep a step ahead of it, Um, but they're everyone's everyone. You know. The first week. Of course, we were all just trying to catch up and figure out, you know, Now we're moving into that phase of okay, we've got a sustained this for a long time. So how are we gonna share? Resource is so it's one, you know, citing example Coup. Mac is the largest hunger relief organization in Passaic County. There, like a food bank, food, pantry. You know, not not a sick kitchen, but as they're getting deliveries of fresh fruits and vegetables, we're sending our truck over to pick them up and bring them here so that they're being distributed from two sites and people are getting them while they're fresh on. We're popping those apples and oranges in our lunch bags for the families to take home. There's been a real sharing of resource is which is, uh, very nice to see. Earlier this morning, the head of State County Casa called, and they, you know, they're dealing with foster kids who are being affected by this, because maybe mom and Dad don't have the ability to stay home. You know, the foster parents don't have the ability to stay home and watch the kids when they're not at a school for foster parents. So they're moving kids around who need clothing and clean out your new underwear and socks that we were able. Thio, you know, tap into some of our resources for that and help them. And I think you know, it's It's a model of what our nation has to be. We have to share the resources we have to communicate. We have to act as one. If we're going Thio, you know, limit the extent of this pandemic

David Wright:   30:43
Indeed. So how can people help Jen? Where can we go? How do we What do we do? What should we do? Yeah, so for a

Jennifer Brady:   30:50
week specifically, you can visit our website at Oasis NJ dot or ge Um, there are there's information on their on local drop off for food items for a food pantry. There's great options on there to donate to make sure that we are able to continue this work to see the poorer and then eventually come out of this. Those were really the two best things that you can do now. You can also tap into us on social media Facebook and Instagram and follow our stories were posting a couple times a day keeping people in the loop about what we're doing here. in terms of meeting my needs. 

David Wright:   31:27
My guest today is Jennifer Brady. Jen. Thanks very much.  

Jennifer Brady:   31:34
Thank you.