Woman cleaning a door handle with a disinfection spray and disposable wipe. Woman sanitizing door handle with antibacterial spray. Girl staying at home during coronavirus outbreak

Orange County’s Neighborhood Center for Families get Cleaning Supplies to Underserved to Fight COVID-19

Community & Services

Shopping for food and other household essentials during the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially difficult for low-wage individuals and families. Agencies that would normally be on the frontlines with assistance are struggling themselves, due to a decline in charitable contributions and needs skyrocketing. However, some are weathering the challenge and continuing to serve.

The Winter Park Neighborhood Center for Families (NCF), along with several other community partners, has provided residents living at InTown Suites Orlando North, an extended stay hotel located on Lee Road, with free essential items that are critical to fighting the virus.

“We serve a population of people who, in many cases, could only wish to shop in bulk,” said NCF Senior Coordinator Karen Sims, “Before our product distribution, they were probably more fearful than most, because many of them hadn’t received their public assistance, and by the time they did, there was very little left to buy.”

St. Margaret Mary Catholic ChurchVictory Church and the Winter Park Christian Service Center (CSC) had already been planning a special event for InTown Suites, but fears accelerated when COVID-19 cases in Orange County began to spike.

“It goes back to being profoundly impacted by the movie The Florida Project, in which the lives of low-wage workers in Kissimmee were profiled,” explained Tom Gawronski of St. Margaret Mary. “We realized we have our own ‘Florida Project’ right down the street, so we helped these folks meet some basic needs.”

Extended stay hotels do not typically offer housekeeping services, so residents are required to clean and sanitize rooms themselves. But when families find themselves in cramped quarters for long periods of time, cleaning sometimes ranks low on the priority list. Cleanliness and social distancing, however, are the keys to thwarting the virus, making these particular families more vulnerable to infection.

More than 80 families registered to receive baskets of cleaning and hygiene supplies, which included bleach, detergent, Clorox wipes, toilet paper, paper towels and more.

Nancy Wilkens, who has lived in the InTown Suites for three years, described the products as a blessing.

“I was just so scared,” she said. “I walked into the grocery store hoping for a small bottle of hand sanitizer or bleach and there was literally nothing. When the flyer began circulating, I was determined to get on the list.”

Wilkens spends $1,300 a month on one hotel room that she shares with her disabled grandson, along with her daughter and son-in-law. With few opportunities to make extra money during this time, she saw the cleaning and hygiene supplies as a glimmer of hope.

Going forward, the church intends to maintain the partnerships that made this event so successful. “We have a bold vision to get people out of their current situations and into more stable living environments,” said Gawronski. “We hope organizations like the NCF and CSC stay on board to help us see this project through until we can see lives changed in a positive way.”

To learn more about a Neighborhood Center for Families location in your community and available resources, visit www.ocfl.net/NCF.

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