With the turn of the new year comes another surge of COVID-19 cases across the Commonwealth and the nation. During the first few days of 2022, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley staff started receiving reports of the immense operational challenges that local early learning centers were experiencing. Childcare staff have always been essential workers in their communities, but their unwavering commitment to our young people has never been more apparent than the past two years. They have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, working long hours, adapting practices and policies amidst constantly shifting public health guidance, and going above and beyond to provide care for some of our most vulnerable residents.
United Way works with dozens of childcare providers in our region, which serve over 10,500 children. Our partners primarily serve families with low income, families who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Across our early learning centers, the arrival of the Omicron variant has caused an increase in illness among children and staff, which has in turn led to staffing shortages, necessary shifts in health and safety protocols requiring new equipment, and additional burdens on parents and guardians.
Our partners are telling us loud and clear that they are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated. These sentiments were illustrated in a recent article in the Boston Globe that detailed the crisis unfolding at childcare centers throughout the state.
“The early education sector is drowning. Each day is a struggle to keep classrooms open so children can thrive and parents can work. Everything about delivering high quality early childhood education to families is hard right now,” said Lauren Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Ellis Early Learning. “Only the levity and the joy children can bring make the daily struggles bearable. Thank goodness for the children, who bring joy and meaning to this particularly challenging time.”
United Way staff immediately sprang to action and brainstormed how we would be able to show our early education partners and their incredible staff that we care about their well-being and admire their immeasurable contributions to our communities. This week, we launched an initiative to show our caregivers we care, issuing a call to action to our corporate partners to “adopt” a childcare center either with a financial gift or a gift of testing and protective supplies.
Due to the largely remote work environment, we know that our corporate partners may have surplus health and safety equipment. They may also have expense budgets for events or meals that are going unused. Taking care of lunch for our childcare workers shows these essential workers that we appreciate them and leaves them with one less worry during the day.
Donations of medical-grade personal protective equipment, rapid COVID-19 tests and KN95 child-sized masks will also go a long way in alleviating the burden being placed on childcare staff, while promoting the overall health and safety of our communities. During this time of uncertainty, our childcare centers have worked tirelessly to provide consistency and stability for so many of our families. United Way is determined to let them know that we appreciate them.
Anyone can contribute to this effort and share some joy to our childcare staff. Click here to donate and Show Our Caregivers You Care.