In a typical month, Birmingham AIDS Outreach (BAO) serves about 800 people. Those services include counseling, legal aid, nutritional supplements and meal delivery. The recent coronavirus emergency has prompted the staff to be even more creative to get the job done.
”Today we had a produce truck come in, and we had to figure out how to unload that while also maintaining distances,” said BAO CEO Karen Musgrove.
Orders to stay home, designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, have varying degrees of impact on the nonprofit’s programs. The youth center has closed and HIV testing has been suspended. The wellness center now sees clients only by appointment and is filling prescriptions over the phone. But one of the more high-touch services continues to fill a vital need – food boxes.
In a typical week, BAO provides food baskets and gas vouchers for nearly 200 AIDS patients in the greater Birmingham area. “We already exist in this world where we have to consider how to help people with compromised immune systems,” Musgrove said. “We know what it’s like to practice universal precautions; it’s ingrained in who we are.”
Those food baskets contain fresh fruit and produce, canned goods and, since this past December, cleaning supplies. Given the uncertainty of the coronavirus, staff members were concerned that few of them would be able to show up for the assistance. Instead, nearly everyone arrived for their appointment, kept safe from COVID-19 exposure by new procedures such as curbside pickup.
Musgrove has had to rearrange schedules and work areas. A few employees work from home, while volunteers are not able to help at all for now. Essential staff members are assigned to keep the population in each site to a minimum and to keep workers from intermingling between buildings.
“It’s amazing how prepared the BAO staff are, and they are going the extra mile to help our clients during this time,” she said. “The need for BAO’s essential services (food, medical services, counseling, legal and case management) is too important to the community we serve.”