By Dakota Woodlands Representative
Since late January of this year our world radically changed with the spread of the Corona Virus (COVID-19) that has impacted the entire world. The virus has shown no boundaries and has caused thousands of deaths while the world tries to find a cure.
In early March the virus arrived in the United States and has virtually shut the entire country down. Minnesota is no exception and we are all going to great lengths to protect ourselves and our families from the deadly virus.
Living and working at the shelter has had its challenges. It's difficult to understand the threat entirely when at first glance everything seems fine. Our shelter has always been a safe haven for our residents and staff and it's a challenge having to deal with a threat that you can't see.
Living in fear and the unknown is nothing new to our residents. Unfortunately, this fear is present and has reared its ugly head into our shelter. To mitigate the threat of COVID-19 and anxiety for people living and working at the shelter, we had to work hard to shift expectations of all residents and staff to follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health safety recommendations. We are working diligently to stop the threat at our doorway. However, once the virus is in our shelter, it will be too late to stop it at the same capacity.
You may ask... what are we doing to safeguard our Dakota Woodlands’ community? The word WE is not meant to be used lightly, as it truly means the entire shelter community is working together to safeguard our home and workplace. We have locked our front doors to our building 24/7 to control access. Visitors are not allowed within our facility, except those with essential business. Anyone wanting access to our facility must make prior arrangements with staff, temperatures taken, and follow sanitation guidelines. All business and county related activities that involve residents and staff communications, including board of director meetings, are handled electronically.
We have also taken other steps to safeguard our community. We have transitioned communal activities and practices to a controlled distribution of resources, such as how we handle our food and social distancing in our dining hall. We have dedicated a washroom for hand washing, a station to support self-health screening - recording staff and resident temperatures daily, and isolating when temperatures are elevated 99.5 degrees or higher.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Eagan MN donated over 100 thermometers to us months ago not knowing of the future pandemic ahead of us. We also were fortunate to have N95 masks in our inventory and hand sanitizer that carried us over to when we started receiving these needed resources from donors. We have had and continue to have great support from the outside community. We are receiving handmade masks for adults and children made to CDC specifications; cleaning services provided by a grant through the State; the Board of Directors of Dakota Woodlands continue to network with restaurants, bakeries, and other sources to direct food donations our way; and individuals from the community dropping off toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc.
We are forever grateful to those that continue to support us through various resources of giving. We receive phone calls from past volunteers that moved out of state asking how they can help us. Volunteers that we depend on to pick up food donations continue to drop off donations at our site. A gentleman who is an electrical engineer that volunteers, he suits up in protective gear and comes into our shelter to take care of time sensitive repairs and plumbing issues. Working at the shelter as an employee and seeing those that are part of the DW team whether they are volunteers or staff are remarkable people. They are putting their personal fears aside, with a steadfast focus to continue to protect the most vulnerable and to help keep our safe haven 'safe'. This is exemplified by leadership at the executive level.
We are so proud of the people we serve, as we know it had been difficult to ‘shelter in place’ that was mandated by our State's Governor Tim Walz. The children staying with us are the most resilient, as they seamlessly dovetailed from being students in school facilities with friends and structure to 'sheltering in place' using distant learning to keep up with school work. We see young and older children working independently on their tablets, communicating with teachers and being very engaged in what they are learning. Teachers call the shelter often to connect with their students and we have an education person on staff that helps the children with questions and access to resources. Congratulations to all of our students staying with us that navigated and succeeded in their education during a difficult time!
In summary, like most everyone else in our country, we have our good days and bad days during this pandemic. However, as we see it, every day is a good day when we continue to keep our Dakota Woodlands community safe.