We have come so far in creating a better world for people with disabilities. Now we have a pandemic on our front steps, and our mission has never been more critical. We must protect the more than 1,100 vulnerable individuals that we serve.
In February, Evergreen developed a crisis and communications team to address COVID-19. Under the leadership of our CEO/President, Sue Buchholtz and our Board, we planned for the worst and prayed for the best.
Evergreen has more than 100 community homes, and the majority of them are in Louisiana. As you all know, Louisiana is being hit very hard from COVID-19, and despite every possible precaution, Evergreen has not been spared. We currently have several community homes under quarantine, with at least one resident in each home who has tested positive, as well as staff members who have tested positive.
When a suspected case is confirmed in a community home, Evergreen pays overtime and hazard pay to at least three staff members who volunteer to quarantine in that home for a minimum of 14 days. A quarantine is extended an additional 14 days if another person in the home begins to display symptoms.
You can imagine how emotionally and financially devastating this is–on our selfless staff members who volunteer to quarantine, to the people Evergreen serves whose routines have been upended, and to the organization’s financial resources. Even worse, the recent stimulus packages did not provide new funding for in-home supports.
Evergreen is committed to protecting its over 2,000 staff members. The overwhelming majority of staff are Direct Support Professionals – our heroes. These frontline workers deserve Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), but Evergreen’s modest supply of PPE is quickly being drained.
When the CDC updated its face mask guidelines last week, Evergreen’s senior executive team made a swift decision to utilize HEAVENDROPt to create quality face masks using parachute material. If you haven’t already heard of HEAVENDROPt, it is Evergreen’s largest social enterprise, and it owns one of the largest supplies of retired military parachutes in the country. The products are made by individuals with disabilities, who are paid a competitive wage to turn those parachutes into many incredible items.
The HEAVENDROPt team developed a face mask prototype within a day, and they will be mass produced in the coming days and weeks for our staff members. You can pre-order your face mask here. Please allow up to three weeks, as we are prioritizing our staff members. The sales of these masks will allow us to retain contract employees who were facing no work.
It is a sad reality that people with disabilities are often overlooked, and it is up to you and me to make sure that this does not happen in these difficult times. As Evergreen’s Board Chair and as a father of a person with a disability, I implore you to remember the disability community during this pandemic. Please, pray for our staff and persons served, and if you are able, please financially support us.
Stay safe and we look forward to the day when we can all be together again.
Chair of Evergreen’s Board of Directors