Not even a global pandemic can slow Interfaith Community Services. In fact, the local nonprofit recently expanded its footprint to midtown with a fourth location at Rincon Congregational United Church of Christ.
“We have learned how to be flexible and nimble during this time period. It has really been challenging, but it has forced us to solve problems that might have been there for a while. We feel like we will come out a more nimble, stronger organization because of the pandemic,” said Tim Kromer, director of outreach and partnerships for ICS.
The new location, 122 N. Craycroft Road, is a reflection of that flexibility. Kromer said that essentially, it allows ICS to bring services closer to many clients, removing obstacles such as difficulty with access to transportation from the social services equation.
“As an organization, a big part of our strategic plan for the last few years has been to remove barriers and bring services closer to where clients live. We know that a good portion of our clients live in the 85711 ZIP code and surrounding ZIP codes,” said Kromer.
Open by appointment on weekdays — call 297-6049 — the new location offers services such as ICS emergency financial aid, which includes financial assistance with rent and mortgage payments, utilities and employment costs. The program is made possible through partnerships with organization such as the United Way of Southern Arizona, the Jewish Community Foundation and governmental grants and has become a cornerstone of ICS services during the pandemic.
“Last year during this time, we had served around 2,500 individuals through this program. During the same time this year, we have served 3,500 individuals. Generous partnerships and grants have provided increased funding so we have been able to serve a lot more folks. It is a need we know is definitely there,” said Kromer.
By this fall, the midtown location will also provide services through a Workforce Development Center designed to help clients attain skills and confidence to secure and retain employment. The site will also offer weekly food distribution to registered families through a new custom-built mobile food pantry.
“Going into areas of identified need and bringing a variety of food to clients in their own neighborhoods is a big part of this. This truck has refrigeration and a freezer, so we can distribute produce, dairy, meat and dry goods like people would get at a brick-and-mortar food bank,” said Kromer.
To date this fiscal year, ICS has served 36,000 individuals during drive-thru food giveaways at food banks and produce/food giveaways in parking lots of local faith partner congregations. Offered in conjunction with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona for the past several years, Kromer said the pandemic made parking distributions even more essential.
“We know the mobile food pantry is a good model because the giveaways in our faith community parking lots have been so successful. They served roughly 200 families in two hours at each giveaway through six locations citywide during the past eight months,” said Kromer.
The Workforce Development Center is vital service for people determined to pull themselves from poverty, according Tina Bommarito, coordinator of the program for ICS. In addition to support with job searches, résumés, interviewing and financial assistance for job-related expenses (fingerprint clearance cards, certifications, uniforms and more), resources at the center include “Getting Ahead Workshops,” a collaboration between ICS and the Pima County Ending Poverty Now Program.
“This is a program geared toward helping people who live in poverty or near the poverty line to make life-changing decisions. The program helps them focus on making the goals and changes necessary to move forward and create a more livable wage and empower themselves with skills they need to be successful,” said Bommarito.
The free interactive workshop, which is based on research by author Ruby Payne and a curriculum created by Phil DeVol, is comprised of 17 weeks of classes through which participants examine their personal experiences and explore issues in the community that impact poverty, including spending, housing, jobs, transportation and more.
“We explore the dynamics of poverty and differences between the economic classes and how people make decisions based on their different life experiences in those classes,” said Bommarito.
“In the first module, when we explain what poverty is, many people have an ‘Aha!’ moment where they realize how many obstacles have been working against them. From education and budgeting to transportation, there are many experiences that you just take for granted when you grow up in a middle-class household; these are part of the learning experience for our participants.”
Bommarito emphasized that participants must make a commitment to the entire course of three-hour weekly classes; the intensive program requires they be “fully in” and willing to have conversations and dialogues about their experiences.
“Individuals are experts over their own lives, and they all have a good idea about what they need. We help them identify that and empower them with resources and tools to get where they need to be, whether that may be a GED or other education, finding a better job or launching a business,” said Bommarito.
Graduation from the program provides access to numerous resources, including a closed Facebook group managed by Pima County and ICS extension programs such as RESET, which provides long-term financial assistance, life skills training, case management and other free and reduced-price services and support.
Ultimately, Bommarito said one of the greatest challenges facing the program is a lack of awareness in the community.
“This is an incredible program that is helping so many individuals to succeed. We just want to get the word out so that people know we exist,” she said.
Promoting awareness about the new ICS location — and the generosity of the many volunteers who made it possible — is also a priority, according to Kromer.
“I can’t stress enough how the Rincon congregation has been key in bringing this to fruition. They have been so generous and are a perfect example of true partnership between organizations whose missions have aligned and realized that by joining forces, we will be able to serve the community in a significant way,” Kromer said.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com