What Urban Missionaries Do

In this time of calamity!

Like everyone else, we are staying in place with as little physical contact with others as possible. It was kind of surreal when we arrived home from our vacation and found ourselves face-to-face with having to make some very serious decisions concerning the LittleStore and its employees, as well as our own living arrangements and our family’s well-being.

We decided to close down all operations, except the food distribution program, on Sunday, March 15, 2020. We did close down the pickups at the area supermarkets, but decided that we needed to keep our food pantry operation up and running.   We decided that we would deliver food on an emergency basis to people who were calling into our office or into Saint Paul’s looking for emergency food and we would deliver the food to their house.

So, on Monday, March 16, Kathy and I were in the office at 7:30 A.M. trying to come up with a procedure to handle the food deliveries. The very first thing we did was put signs at the store and Saint Paul Food Pantry letting people know we would be closed for the duration, but we would fulfill any requests for food via delivery. 

On Tuesday, I started delivering food donations. It started slowly, three or four deliveries per day. Then it started to increase, ten, fifteen, then twenty! By March 30th we were getting 50 phone calls each day for food! We were being buried by appeals for help. Knowing that we could not possibly provide that much food, we decided that we would need to apply some restrictions to whom we could supply food. The gating factor was, how much food would we be receiving from the Worcester County Food Bank?

I made a call to our support person at the Food Bank to determine what they thought the level of supply of food would be. They assured me that I could expect at least what we had been receiving on a monthly basis for the past year and there is a possibility of more because they were going to an appointment basis for all pickups and he had put St. Paul’s down for every Friday at 1:00 P.M.  This was good news because it meant that I could, with some confidence, supply up to 300 families with food per month and possibly more if the extra food came to fruition.

 With this in mind we set the following criteria:

Anyone 60 years or more

Anyone living in a shelter

Anyone on DTA (Department of transitional assistance)

Anyone living in zip code 01608, 01609, and 01610

With these criteria in place, we are now doing ten to twenty families per day and the food supply seems to be holding up. Throughout this crisis, as always we rely on the dedication of our volunteers and donors in order to serve the people who are the first to be left out. The Urban Missionaries are not going anywhere, and together we will continue to serve however we can, whenever we can!

From the Director

Well as you all know, we are in very difficult times. We are trying to work our way through as best we can. We have closed the LittleStore until May 4, 2020, as of now, but it might go later! We have closed down all of our other ministries, except immigration, which we are running on a telephone or email basis because of time requirements on some Federal documents. We are running our food program at full steam because food is essential and we have a lot of experience in this arena.

I do want to call your attention to our staff, their situation, our investment committee, our board of directors, and our financial analyst and how they all have risen to the occasion. When we closed everything down the very first question that we needed to address was, do we lay them off immediately or keep them on. Well at first it was an easy decision since the close down was until April 2, 2020, but when the closedown order was extended until May 4, 2020, we panicked because of our fragile financial position!

The first thing we did was get a Zoom meeting with our investment committee and financial analyst to determine, given our current available cash, how long could we keep paying our employees. The answer wasn’t good. We would not be able to pay them through the May 4, 2020, mandatory closing period. The writing was on the wall, we would have to lay them off. 

Kathy and I then did a Zoom meeting with the staff for two reasons. One was that we hadn’t seen any of them since we left for vacation on February 21, 2020, and we wanted to see them! The second reason was to explain as best we could the situation we found ourselves in. We would continue to pay them during the forced shutdown. That we were applying for the Payroll Protection Plan from the Federal Government, but that we had to have a yes or no answer before April 11, 2020. If we did not hear that our application had been accepted by this date we would have to lay them off.  They were troopers. They agreed to our plan and thanked us for all the work we were doing on their behalf.

The next step was to let the board of directors know what we were thinking. So we did a Zoom meeting with them.  The board listened very closely to what we were saying. After forty-five minutes of discussion of the information we received from our meeting with the investment committee, financial analyst, and the government concerning the payroll protection plan, it was agreed that we would lay off the employees by April 12, 2020, because if we paid out wages after that date we would seriously jeopardize our ability to reopen the LittleStore, because we would not have enough cash for the startup.

Simultaneously, while all of this was going on Kathy and Lois were working on our application for the Payroll Protection Program from the Federal Government. I have to tell you their effort to work through the morass of information and dig out all of the information required was nothing short of heroic!

First of all, they had to decide to whom we would apply. It was through a friend of the ministry that we found out that we need to apply through a bank and not through the Small Business Administration. Kathy started a search and found that unless we had an account with the bank in question we could not apply. So we checked our two banks which we do business with, and found only one was participating in the program. 

So Kathy got the forms from their web site and started to accumulate the sixteen pages or so of the information required only to find out the next day that all the payroll reports needed to be redone because the first set of instructions changed and the new ones “just issued” called for a new date range. Finally, on April 4, 2020, we submitted our application and all of the supporting documentation via email to our bank. And then we waited and waited and waited. Nothing. No emails saying we got your information and it is good, or bad, or incomplete or you are approved, nothing.

So we started to call people, the bank contact person’s voice mailbox was full! We then tried to contact the Small Business Administration., We were contacted by a SCORE representative that sent us links to “all you ever wanted to know about” , well anything. We then turned to our Congressman, we got an email from him after 3 or 4 days with, you guessed it, links to “all you ever wanted to know about the PPP and everything else.”

On April 9, 2020, I emailed the SCORE representative and told him our situation and he sent us the email of the contact at the SBA who handles the PPP incoming applications. Kathy immediately called him. He was very nice and somewhat helpful. He told us that our application had not been received, but our bank was indeed submitting them. He then happily announced, “don’t worry about the money running out. We haven’t even gone through our first billion yet!” And this is the problem in the Government’s mind. 

But it truly misses the point! As a very small business, our fuse is much shorter than a company of 300 or 500 employees. They most likely have the cash to continue to pay their employees, but they all seem to have laid off their employees as soon as they could. We, on the other hand, are six employees and we didn’t want to put any of them into a situation where their income would be jeopardized.

So we hung on as long as we could and on April 11, 2020, we furloughed all the employees except our accountant. I cannot remember a more difficult day in our 40-year history. It is not over yet and I will catch you up in our next issue of StreetLights.