As movement in Allegheny County and across the world slowed down in March, demand for ACCESS door-to-door paratransit service slowed, too. Nevertheless, ACCESS service has remained stable throughout the pandemic, providing essential trips to places of employment, medical appointments, grocery stores and the like. In collaboration with community partners, ACCESS has tapped into newfound capacity in the ACCESS system to connect essential goods like food and medical supplies to community members in need.
With the support of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Transportation Network and other partners, ACCESS transportation providers are using their fleet of vehicles and drivers to coordinate essential deliveries with community agencies around the County. Some of these agency partners include Global Links, Community Kitchen, AgeWell at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, Praise Temple Church and Northern Area Multi-Service Center, to name a few.
Pittsburgh Community Kitchen, a food-focused nonprofit based in Hazelwood, saw an increased need for food deliveries during the onset of the pandemic. “We had seniors calling us because their caregivers were no longer able to come and prepare meals,” noted Jennifer Flanagan, Founder and Executive Director of Community Kitchen. “We saw a shift with children temporarily staying with aunts and uncles and grandparents due to school closures because their parents were essential workers, which put more strain on those households.” Community Kitchen estimates that over 25,000 meals have been delivered by ACCESS providers to the greater Hazelwood community since March.
Global Links, an organization focused on redirecting medical surplus to communities around the world, saw a need to deliver personal protective equipment to agencies working directly with vulnerable populations in southwest Pennsylvania. Since March, ACCESS providers have delivered 2,700 boxes of these essential supplies to over 240 different agencies in Allegheny County. “[The] continued support has been phenomenal and we are grateful for the supplies to keep our staff and residents safe,” said Mary Kay Bonn of Chartiers Center, a recipient of these supplies.
Northern Area Multi-Service Center (NAMS) is a current ACCESS provider that also facilitates community service programs for older adults and other individuals. When the coronavirus pandemic began, NAMS focused on maintaining a sanitized and safe vehicle fleet, providing essential services to clients, and maintaining job security for much of their staff. James Carlin, a longtime driver for NAMS, shared the gratitude many community members feel for the service. He also stated, “In my mind, as much as [people] need the service, I also need the job. It goes hand in hand with each other.”
In coordination with United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline, ACCESS program staff have also conducted over 1,000 check-in calls with older community members, connecting them to food and other resources in the community while providing some essential social connection during this challenging time.
Across the County, an ACCESS trip is more than a van driving from one neighborhood to another. An ACCESS trip plays an integral role in providing essential services to communities during a crisis and beyond. Collaborative efforts with strategic partners resulted in reaching community members in need and a newfound perspective on what a well-connected human services and transportation network can accomplish.