Don’t be fooled by romantic talk about how COVID-19 spotlights the common plight of humans…how we are all in this together. American poet W.H. Auden said, “The hospitals alone remind us of the equality of mankind.” Although this contains a basic truth that riches and privilege cannot keep one from illness, it is misleading during this global pandemic. Yes, the coronavirus indiscriminately attacks human bodies of all races and social classes once it encounters them. But I believe this virus has shone a light on the appalling inequalities in society.
By now we know that the way to avoid the virus is to keep one’s distance from other people, and to remain isolated for as long as possible. But let us not forget the equally important fact that this is much easier for some of us than for others.
Picture child A who is asked to isolate herself from her friends, stay home and successfully finish out the school year. She lives in a house with a yard, has her own bedroom and laptop and is equipped with high speed internet. Her parents have jobs that can be performed remotely so they can continue to make their living on their laptops. They can, therefore, remain comfortably in their home for the safety of themselves and their family.
Enter child B. She lives in an apartment or shelter, most likely with multiple siblings and extended family. She does not own a laptop and has no internet connection. Her parents are likely in frontline jobs such as healthcare, food service, grocery, cleaning or transportation. Their jobs require them to put themselves in daily danger of contracting a deadly virus and bringing it home to their family.
Hope Supply Co. is a Dallas nonprofit which has been meeting the critical needs of homeless and at-risk children for 30 years, to allow them the chance to thrive. You might guess that child B best illustrates a child we serve. Our children live in packed apartment complexes, crowded homeless shelters, domestic violence safe houses, residential drug rehab centers where their parents are getting treatment, or rehab homes for their formerly incarcerated parents. These are just a few examples of the reality of the children served by our over 78 partner agencies.
Now more than ever our children and their families rely on our support. We are the largest children’s diaper bank in Texas, annually providing over 2 million diapers and another $1.6 million in value of other essentials such as hygiene, feminine products and school uniforms and supplies. We take care of the basics, because basics aren’t basic, they’re essential. Many struggling families simply cannot afford these essentials. To keep one baby clean, dry and healthy for a month costs $80 for diapers alone. Parents are forced to make difficult decisions between food and hygiene. In the shadow of COVID-19, their troubles are mounting. In the richest country in the world, this is unacceptable.
Our mission is simple and our execution efficient. Since the pandemic blindsided Dallas in mid-March, Hope Supply Co. has missed not a single day of service to those who need us now more than ever. The burden of taking care of the most vulnerable should be the burden of the government. Sadly, in our great country, nonprofits shoulder the lion’s share of that burden day in day out. Government failures to properly address this crisis for the most vulnerable shine a bright spotlight on the fact that those of us who can help have every obligation to do so. If we are all in this together, let’s all be in this together.
Barbara Johnson serves as the CEO of Dallas-based Hope Supply Co, a nonprofit organization supporting the critical needs of homeless and at-risk children. The organization also holds the state's largest diaper bank for children in Dallas. She was born and raised in Southeast Asia and came to the United States for college, where she earned her economics degree from Stanford University. Johnson began her nonprofit career at Literacy Achieves, an adult literacy center where she opened and managed the organization’s first satellite campus in a low-income, immigrant neighborhood in west Dallas. She then joined, HeartGift, an international medical nonprofit based in Austin, where she started the Dallas chapter and led its growth as the executive director.