LISTENING, PROVIDING, EVOLVING: how direct service organizations in southern New Jersey are changing to meet community needs, and adapting themselves, during the COVID-19 pandemic

Given the uncertainty that families face because of the public health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, direct service work has become indispensable. WRI developed a qualitative evaluation project early in the pandemic to examine the range of responses from a group of direct service organizations as they acknowledged, responded to, and worked to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the families and communities they serve.

To reach that aim, we gathered data through twenty-seven interviews, conducted between May 6 and June 10, 2020, with staff and leadership at eight organizations in southern New Jersey which engage in direct service provision in their communities.

They shared with us the impacts of the pandemic on the families they serve (in terms of economic security, education, access to technology, food insecurity) as well as the immediate and lasting impacts on the organizations themselves. This paper examines how urgent community needs have reshaped organizations’ goals and strategies around resource allocation just as the shift to virtual provision of services has reshaped daily practices. Their responses show the creative strategies used to respond to this new context, how organizations stretched and changed, and how individual staff members redefined their work to better help the families they serve. And their responses also highlight their emerging roles as basic service and financial aid providers, essential support systems, and vital sources of information about public health.



This paper was designed, researched, and written by the WRI Public Papers Writing Group, a cohort of graduate students and research project staffers with expertise in subject areas including Public Affairs, Psychology, Education, Public Policy, and Public Health. WRI working papers will be released periodically on topics relevant to our work in the region. We seek to advance knowledge, stimulate discourse, and empower those who can act on equitable and shared solutions to issues impacting residents and communities.