Sankofa volunteers with boxes of food to give away.
Brittney Taylor, center, the project director for Liberty Resources at the Sankofa Wellness & Resource Center, stands ready to serve the community with volunteers from the Vineyard Church.

Center Adds Giveaways During Pandemic

By Sydney Bergan

Brittany Taylor picks up a donation of bread from Panera before heading to 2323 S. Salina St. She enters, puts down the bread and starts to sanitize the inside of an airy, open space as light streams in from the large store-front window. She readies a pile of paper engagement surveys and opens the door.

Welcome to the Sankofa Wellness & Resource Center, a project of Liberty Resources, which provides a range of healthcare services to those in need with the goal of improving health outcomes on the South Side. The wellness center, with funding from the Central New York Care Collaborative, took up residence in January inside the space, which it shares with the Sankofa Café. Although the café is not currently operating because of COVID-19, it is supporting the resource center by posting about Taylor and her team’s efforts on their social media accounts, Taylor said.

In the few months before the pandemic upset life everywhere, the Sankofa wellness center provided basic health monitoring by licensed practical nurses, offered nutritional support, aided those in need by connecting them to peer-specialists and engaged the community through weekly and monthly events.

Taylor, the project director at the Sankofa center, has been working with Liberty Resources for about five years. She said her goal when creating the center was to ensure that it was “providing culturally confident care that really embraces what this community needs and delivering it in a way that’s accepting and really able to stick around and create some longevity in the program.”

When COVID-19 prompted the Centers for Disease Control to announce social distancing guidelines in March, Taylor and her staff found new ways to engage the community.

“With the pandemic,” Taylor said, “I can’t sit here and know that I have all of these supplies downstairs and there are people, especially in this area, that don’t have access to them.”

So Sankofa is now operating as a hygiene pantry from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and as a fresh produce giveaway starting at 11 a.m. each Sunday. The hygiene pantry provides feminine products, toilet paper, diapers, laundry detergent, shampoo and many other items to those in need.

The bread donations from Panera are handed out during the weekday hygiene pantry hours. The center also still provides health and wellness consultations over the phone five days a week during normal business hours. The number for these telephone consultations is (315) 345-4239.

Since the center started distributing food at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Taylor and her staff have served about 50 families a week, according to Taylor and Melissa Jillson, Liberty Resources senior director. Jillson said that she hopes Sankofa can receive additional funding to provide foods that cover the full spectrum of nutritional needs, possibly in the form of food pantry boxes that could be given out a couple of times a month.

When people come to the hygiene pantry and the fresh-produce giveaway, Taylor asks that they fill out an engagement survey so her staff can check-in with those who need additional support. The center has set aside time each week to call people and provide this support, Taylor said.

When arriving to Sankofa, individuals must stand behind the building’s double set of glass doors, at least six feet away from Taylor and her staff. Not being able to physically reach and hug the people who are voicing how much they are struggling has been difficult for her staff, Taylor said.

“There’s still that physical distance that you have to put between yourself and another person, which creates an emotional distance as well,” she added.

It has been a roller coaster full of ups and downs, Taylor said. She tries to remind herself that it’s OK to wake up and not feel her absolute best and that she is entitled to all of the feelings and emotions she has during this time. Taylor also encourages her staff to pay attention to the news in order to stay informed, but not to focus too heavily on the negative stories.

“Instead of talking about the death toll, which is very real, let’s talk about the recovery, let’s talk about the ways we can engage our community and help others,” she said.

Jillson said Taylor and her team at Sankofa are being very efficient in their efforts to stay safe and follow CDC recommendations. Jillson called them “everyday heroes,” and said she is impressed by all the work they have done before the pandemic and since the crisis emerged.

Taylor wants citizens of the South Side to be open and support those around them during this difficult time. She also encouraged them to be a part of cooperative opportunities like Café Sankofa and the Sankofa Wellness & Resource Center and to donate their time and skills to the community.

“I hope that the same spirit continues after this and the same empathy and care that we have for our community during a time of need,” Taylor said. “We realize that this need has always been there and we continue to develop and engage and really want to help those around us.”

Sydney Bergan majors in Magazine, News & Digital Journalism at the Newhouse School of Syracuse University

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