Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians,
Peace be with you. I hope that you continue to stay safe and healthy during this on-going, unprecedented health crisis. Our Council has surely faced crisis before, but nothing quite like this. Globally, Covid-19 has crushed For Profit and Not-for-Profit organizations alike. Other than Amazon, Google, Facebook, and a seeming handful of others, virtually every company and organization has suffered stunning financial losses; and this crisis is far from over.
Relatively speaking, thanks to the incredible, collective efforts of our Leadership Team, SVdPD has come through this pandemic – so far – in remarkably good shape. Returning to some semblance of “normalcy” will require an overall team effort of our staff and Vincentians alike. It is in that spirit that I share the following about our Districts, Conferences, and Retail operations. Please note that what I share herein is the result of proactive planning by several members of our Leadership Team. At the same time, I have emphasized to our team the necessity of remaining “nimble”, i.e. we may need to shift direction on a dime. So what is shared herein is clearly subject to change, perhaps significant change.
Lots of questions remain to be answered. Lots of uncertainty lies ahead for our nation and for our Council. In a sense, it is like our nation is awakening from a self-induced, economic coma. It would be difficult enough if we had a comprehensive, holistic plan for returning to normal. But we do not. Instead, we seem to be embracing the future in a very decentralized, patchwork manner. So it places additional stress on small organizations like ours to improvise. Our best bet for creating a future for our Council that we can be proud of, therefore, is by working together in friendship and with a common goal of advancing our Society’s mission.
1. Covid-19 Emergency Aid to Districts & Conferences
In light of the various unforeseen circumstances related to the COVID-19 national emergency, it is anticipated that the needs of our neighbors will increase significantly in the coming months. In an effort to help position our Districts and Conferences, the Detroit Council and the Board provided each District substantial funding to address the increased need created by this crisis. These funds are to be used specifically towards this effort. In return, each District has been asked only to submit a cursory report on how the funds were used.
Funds from three different sources were combined to provide our Districts and Conferences much needed additional financial wherewithal to meet the growing needs of our neighbors. Funds were distributed to Districts on an equal basis. No administrative fees were deducted. These funds will not be subject to solidarity consideration, either.
These are difficult times. But difficult times can bring out the very best in people. Every day presents opportunities to “be there” for others. During these challenging days, let us choose to focus on that which sustains us. Indeed, Frederic Ozanam reminded that, “Scripture tells us that we will be judged, as a society and as individuals, by how we care for the poor, the vulnerable, the orphans, the elderly, or those in need of spiritual or physical aid.” Let us create paths based upon grace, compassion, and service.
2. Guiding Principles
For the past ten weeks, our reduced staff has worked “remotely” pursuant to the following, clearly communicated guidelines.
First, SVdPD employee and Vincentian safety is paramount. Many of our staff and Vincentians are in the high vulnerable category. We have made all discretionary decisions in light of that reality.
Second, SVdPD and each of its employees has a civic duty to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. We fully intend to follow the directives of Governor Whitmer and all other relevant government directives.
Third, during this pandemic crisis, absent a compelling reason, our Council will focus on existing programs only.
Finally, our Leadership Team will do its collective best to make the best business decisions possible for our Council.
So far, so good. But this crisis is far from over.
3. Future Plans for Retail Operations
The overall plan for re-opening our stores and RRC safely and effectively requires “flexible scheduling”. Preparation will be completed pursuant to phases. The overriding goal of these considerable efforts is to give our staff, our Vincentians, and our customers as much “peace of mind” that we can give in light of these very unsettling circumstances, many of which are outside of our control. Here is just a sampling.
Phase I calls for progress being made on several parallel tracks. For example, defining, and documenting a SVdPD Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan for the entire organization. For the retail operations, it naturally includes thorough store and vehicle cleaning and disinfecting, and working to prepare appropriate PPE and signage aimed at keeping employees and customers safe.
The plan includes having adequate supplies, arranging for the return of furloughed store employees, compiling daily reports and checklists, installing safety equipment, e.g. plexiglass shields for counters, and creating plans for controlling store traffic as well as schedules for periodic cleaning and disinfecting.
In regard to our RRC operation, we have planned carefully on how best to prepare for what we anticipate will be a tremendous outpouring of clothes and furniture donations. This has included, among other things, training a Donations Coordinator, setting up telephone banks to handle and coordinate donations, researching the salvage market for reliable vendors who will help increase our revenues through baling, and establishing a proactive cleaning schedule for both our warehouse and our fleet of trucks.
Phase II includes continued store preparation and cleaning, especially as more furloughed colleagues return, as well as hanging signage in our stores that outlines our new rules for the visiting public. At the same time, the RRC operation will shift into high gear. Donation bins throughout the Archdiocese will be cleaned up, a new telephone bank will be fully operational to handle the increase in calls for donation pick up, drivers will be trained on newly developed strategies and routes, and the entire RRC team will be back and functioning. Of particular note, it will also include a concerted marketing campaign as a follow up to our “Wait to Donate” donations campaign. We expect that our Vincentians and the public will respond enthusiastically!
Phase III will begin on Monday, June 8, 2020. Subject to any further directive from Governor Whitmer, our stores will officially open, albeit on a limited basis, e.g. limited hours, no more than ten customers in the store at one time. All PPE, e.g. masks, gloves, sanitizer, social distancing, etc. will be utilized. We will accommodate “curbside” donation drop-offs, and staff will begin officially processing donations in all stores.
All of the above is consistent with the aforementioned guidelines. It is all aimed at giving staff, Vincentians, and the public as much peace of mind about our stores as reasonably possible.
4. What Can Vincentians Do To Help?
Great question! Here are some thoughts regarding how Vincentians can help support our retail operations during these unprecedented times.
Volunteer! While we understand these are uncertain times, your support and willingness to volunteer in our store locations is needed now more than ever. The store teams will be overextended with the additional daily tasks created by the new COVID-19 safety standards. Here are a few ways you can assist. Rest assured, PPE supplies such as masks and gloves will be provided:
- Assist with greeting customers and monitoring the flow to ensure not more than 10 are in the store at one time
- Assist with directing cars to the curbside donation drop off areas
- Assist with additional light cleaning and sanitizing efforts (i.e cart sanitation, floors, high traffic areas etc.)
- Assist with donation collection and processing; and
- Coordinate with Debbie Jackson to be “on call” when a store in your neighborhood needs help.
Additional ways to assist include:
- Advocate for, and promote “Bundle Sundays” or other sponsored donation drives;
- Donate! We need all the product that we can get. To do that, we need your help and your Conference’s help; and
- Pray! Pray for all adversely affected by this pandemic.
Thank you for your anticipated assistance.
Clearly, we remain firmly in the midst of this crisis. Our road to re-opening and returning to “normal” will be a slow, iterative process. Frankly, we do not know what lies ahead. How long will it take to reclaim our customers? Will there be a second wave, and if so, what will that mean for our Council? So we move forward into an unknown future. But, as briefly described herein, we do so with a prepared and talented team ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. We urge you to choose to become an active member of that team in some meaningful way.
I am very proud of my entire Leadership Team. They have worked extremely hard and stayed laser-focused on our mission during this crisis under less than optimum conditions. We are also very proud of what has happened at many of our stores during this shutdown, especially our Utica store. Please make a point, once restrictions are lifted, to visit (and support) your local SVdPD store.
Best wishes on all ahead. In true Vincentian spirit, let us help one another get through this crisis one day at a time. As we do, may we see each day as an opportunity to help others in need. Please stay safe. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.
In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,