A Pandemic Journal: How Back Bay Mission was Able to Reopen Safely and Quickly

Craig Steenkamp, construction manager, helps install a plexiglass panel.

This article appeared in a recent issue of Changing Tides, Back Bay Mission’s quarterly magazine. After “Shelter in Place” was declared in Mississippi, the Micah Day Center closed for eight days while staff clarified its status as an essential service. The modifications described in the story were made after the Center reopened — usually on Thursdays, when the Center is closed to clients. Writer Kevin Kotula’s description of the process is both heartwarming and informative.

By Kevin Kotula, Back Bay Mission Development Assistant

At Back Bay Mission, we take pride in our work and cherish every day we can help strengthen neighborhoods, seek justice and transform lives. That is why it was so heartbreaking when we had to temporarily close our doors in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our community was hurting. Those already marginalized could have easily been forgotten. Many families, already living check-to-check, began to feel the pressure as the economy came to a screeching halt. During that time, millions of Americans were out of work and needed help. Here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, our dedicated staff was already coming together to plan our response: “How can we help those that are unable to help themselves in this ultimate time of need?”

Kirsten Hebron, Micah Day Center case manager, helps a client with paperwork.

With a burning passion and a tentative plan to reopen, a small but determined group of staffers, aided by those still working from home, reopened Back Bay Mission, but with restrictions.

One of those restrictions was access to our Micah Day Center. Although we were able to reopen the Micah Day Center on a limited basis, we were unable to reopen full time without some modifications first.

That is when our amazing construction team here at Back Bay Mission sprang into action. They were able to plan, design, secure the materials for, and build some truly awesome, one-of-a-kind plexiglass barriers!

They first built and installed one in our administrative building, where we have our Client’s Choice food pantry, our various programs assisting those in need in our community, and even walk-in clients who may need help but not know where to begin. It is where we answer the phones and where our mail is delivered.

Deborah Horn, Micah Center coordinator, is able to safely greet guests, thanks to the new plexiglass partitions.

Next on the agenda was the Micah Day Center. Our Micah Day Center is where we assist the homeless with hot showers, limited laundry service, mail service, and a place to seek refuge from the elements. Our Micah Day Center also includes access to one-on-one counseling through our wonderful Day Center Case Manager, Kirsten. Our construction team was able to design and build plexiglass barriers for Ms. Deborah at the front desk. She is usually the first face our guests see at the Micah Day Center.

Then, the team turned their attention to Ms. Lucy and the clothing closet, where our guests in need can receive clean clothes. Both barriers in the Micah Day Center were designed, built and installed in about a week.

Another very helpful contribution came from the awesome supporters of Back Bay Mission: people from all over the country who took the time to make and send us facemasks — for everyone! Thanks to the hard work and generosity of our volunteers, we are equipped to have a mask on hand not only for every member of our staff and every volunteer, but also for every guest that enters our doors. We can’t thank all of you enough!

The last piece of the puzzle to safely reopening was ensuring that our facility was as clean and sanitary as possible. In addition to our normal cleaning guidelines, we implemented new safety standards We sanitize and clean after guests as needed, and we purchased a sanitizing fogging machine. The sanitizing fogging machine runs once a week to ensure the entire facility is clean and sanitary, from top to bottom, to protect our staff and all of our guests’ health too.

It was a mighty group effort, but one well worth the work. Thanks to a combination of our wonderful volunteers continued support, our dedicated staff — and especially the construction team — we can now safely serve all guests that come to Back Bay Mission.

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Finding new staff members for leadership and ordained roles can be a difficult and long process, but CHHSM and the UCC have two free services to assist our organizations in those searches. As most people affiliated with CHHSM agencies know, each month, Diakonie publishes current opportunities that CHHSM members have sent in. But there is an even wider net open to all CHHSM agencies: the UCC Ministry Opportunities Listing. Learn more about both options. #BeAVoiceCHHSM www.chhsm.org/news/ucc-ministry-opportunities-listing-provides-additional-avenue-for-chhsm-agenci... ... See MoreSee Less
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