VEAP publishes our print newsletter, LINK, every quarter. Engage with the full content of our winter 2021 edition by clicking the image below to download a PDF.
VEAP knows that growing kids and teens need lots of food to get them through the week! That’s why we are a strong proponent of state-wide free and reduced lunch funding for students whose parents are earning low incomes. But what do these same students do if they need an extra food boost during the day or weekend?
Enter VEAP’s Student Food Pack program. Presently we work with dozens of schools across our service area to make sure students who need additional food during the day or at the end of the week can pick up food or snacks right from pantry cupboards onsite at schools. VEAP also distributes food bags packed with the weekend in mind for students who may be food-insecure when school’s not in session. Teachers and social workers also work to help identify students they believe would benefit from the support.
Says Distribution Manager, Dave Rannow: “Our summer program for students is new since the pandemic upended everything in March of 2020. We really want to be there for the students throughout the year. We don’t take a break during the summer vacation, and if there is a need we aim to fill it. We did more of that work during the first pandemic summer, but I could see us continuing to assist with summer programs going forward.”
Last school year (including the summer), nearly 1,500 students received food, and the schools had over 4,000 distributions of food including snacks, cupboard pantry visits, and bags. We are grateful to our dedicated volunteer groups who help sort and pack bags for this incredibly important program!
The Days Inn Hotel located on the west side of Bloomington has seen its fair share of tourists, but for the last three years there were also many that considered the Days Inn to be home.
VEAP Social Worker James McCants Jr. explains why some people end up living in hotels: “Each family has its own difficulties, challenges, or barriers. Some individuals have mental health problems, substance abuse issues, financial barriers, or a limited or damaged rental history.” However, over the summer it was announced that the hotel would soon be closing and around twenty families, half of them with children, were facing homelessness.
While at first the news was catastrophic to many, VEAP was thankfully able to provide a crisis intervention. Social Services Director Jessica Hering commented, “It was really an honor for VEAP to be called upon to support members of our community who were experiencing this transition from the Days Inn, and help them with finding new housing as well as some financial support for their move. We were able to quickly mobilize our staff to connect with the families, provide resources, help them brainstorm options, and assist with deposits, first month’s rent, gift cards, and gas cards.”
During the first month after VEAP stepped in, the families were moved to a motel for a month to breathe and regroup. During that time, James personally connected with a member of each family to explore options and plan for the future.
Of all the people James worked with, there was one in particular who stood out. A single mother of five was, understandably, very frustrated with the whole situation and just wanted it to be resolved immediately. James worked with her one step at a time to get things figured out, even offering access to free therapy and employment resources. The woman and her children are now in the process of moving into permanent subsidized housing. “I was impressed with her,” James noted. “She really stepped up and followed through.”
Although the initial crisis has passed, over the next few months VEAP will continue reaching out to these families about what their plans are and how VEAP might be able to help them. Many have already begun locating housing on their own, but James is always available if they need any guidance.
Thank you to James for the incredible work that he does with patience and compassion, and thank you to United Properties and the Pohlad Family Foundation who make this kind of assistance possible.
VEAP is eager to announce this month’s staff spotlight, Katie Blood. Katie is one of VEAP’s Bilingual Housing Specialists (Spanish/English), in the Social Services Department.
In her role as a Bilingual Housing Specialist, Katie works to support both English and Spanish speaking participants in the VEAP community who are experiencing housing instability, especially those who are struggling to pay their rent or those who can’t pay their rent at all. To support participants best, Katie refers them to the state rental assistance program, and to other resources available to them. In order to do this, Katie and the other housing specialists stay informed on the qualifications participants need to meet in order to access these resources and programs.
Due to COVID-19, the Social Services Department has largely moved to assisting participants with their applications to the state housing program, RentHelpMN, to make sure they are eligible and have the correct documentation. Most of Katie and the other Housing Specialists’ days are filled with phone and email communications with participants regarding the program. VEAP is grateful for the connection the Social Services Department makes with participants!
Katie loves working in an environment that seeks to be better:
VEAP evaluates itself consistently and tries to adjust the opportunities to grow and improve as an organization. I like that VEAP tries to match our programming to what the needs of the community are.
VEAP is happy to have such a devoted Bilingual Housing Specialist on our team to help participants with housing an other requests. Thank you, Katie!
VEAP is excited to introduce Jessica Hering, VEAP’s Social Services Director, for this month’s Staff Spotlight.
In her position, Jessica works on bringing direction and vision to the Social Services team with expanded support through facilitating weekly team meetings among many other tasks. Jessica oversees a total of ten people in the Social Services Department here at VEAP, ranging from housing specialists, social workers, phone intake workers, and the new AmeriCorps administrative assistant.
Jessica is the point of contact with Hennepin County and keeps her team up-to-date with program requirements on the state’s rental assistance program, RentHelpMN. She also seeks to creatively meet the needs of VEAP’s participants– looking for innovative ways to serve those with unique challenges.
“VEAP is grounded in the community that we serve. It’s really connected to participants who live here, other providers, faith communities and a partnership with the county. It truly feels like VEAP is such a part of this community and really responsive to its needs.”
In her spare time, Jessica likes playing softball and reading. Another interest of hers is spending time outside. Whether that be camping or waterskiing, Jessica is there.
VEAP loves having such devoted staff members working to help make an impact in their community. Thank you, Jessica, for the work you do for VEAP and our participants.