After months of making ends meet during the pandemic, child care providers in East St. Louis, IL, and surrounding communities were feeling the strain last fall as they continued to purchase masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and other basic materials needed to protect children and staff. As small business owners operating on already tight margins during “normal” times, COVID-19 presented a multitude of expenses that hadn’t been budgeted for at the start of 2020. Compounding the challenge was the fact that St. Clair County, where East St. Louis is located, has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
In a Nutshell
What: COVID-19 emergency relief grants for child care providers serving infants and toddlers (ages 0-3)
Location: Greater East St. Louis, IL, communities
Partners: IFF and Children’s Home & Aid
Impact: 41 licensed child care homes serving 337 children each received $362 and 10 licensed child care centers serving 616 children each received $1,000 to purchase essential supplies and to make basic facility upgrades to protect children and staff during the pandemic
Through a collaboration with Children’s Home & Aid, IFF was uniquely positioned to support providers of infant and toddler care in their role as an essential community resource. We did so by putting to work funding we’ve received for a program launching later this year that will focus on quality facilities for early childhood education (ECE) providers in Illinois.
After learning about the need that existed among child care providers in the area in a meeting with community development colleagues from East Side Aligned/United Way, IFF’s team quickly developed an emergency grant program designed to put the tools needed to safely operate in the hands of providers caring for infants and toddlers. Of special importance was ensuring that both family child care homes and providers – not just larger, center-based providers – were included in the program. Both care types are a vital and long-serving part of the ECE ecosystem – perhaps especially during a pandemic, when families were trying to limit their exposure to others as much as possible.
Through its Child Care Resource & Referral program, Children’s Home & Aid has extensive relationships with child care providers in the Greater East St. Louis community. The organization engaged each of the early child care providers in the area who continued to operate during the pandemic as part of an exhaustive outreach effort by program staff that included going door-to-door.
“We talked to each provider to find out if they wanted to participate in the project, what they needed, and whether they wanted to order the supplies or if they wanted us to order for them,” explains Janice Moenster, Children’s Home & Aid’s Director of Early Childhood Services. “The providers know best the solutions to the challenges they’re facing, and it was important for us to follow their lead and reduce as many barriers as possible for them.”
To ensure accessibility, all child care providers in the Greater East St. Louis community were eligible for funding as long as they were licensed, remained open to serve infants and toddlers (ages 0-3), and completed a one-page application. The result was 51 emergency relief grants ranging in size from $362 to $1,000 awarded between late November 2020 and early March 2021 to 10 child care centers and 41 home-based child care providers.
In the Words of the Providers
“That $1,000 made my day. I bought a refrigerator to store baby bottles, so they don’t touch because of COVID, a washing machine because we are cleaning everything every two hours, and paper towels – and I still had more money to spend.”
– Hope Johnson, Kids of Hope, ExceleRate Bronze
“As a recipient, we are using the funds to purchase masks (for adults and children), gloves, and hand sanitizer. This will allow us to stock up on these essential items, which are used daily and not a budgeted item for our program this year. As you are aware, the year has been extremely difficult both mentally and financially. On behalf of my staff, our children, and families, I thank IFF and the staff at the CCR&R for this wonderful gift.”
– Brenda Crisp, Director, UniPres KinderCottage, ExceleRate Silver
With those funds, providers purchased supplies and completed basic upgrades to their facilities to make them as safe as possible, installing things like touch-free faucets and air purifiers, and purchasing PPE and cleaning supplies, among other items. The grants also enabled providers to purchase educational supplies that are crucial to early childhood learning, including educational technology, books, and art materials. In a sector that has historically been underfunded, and one that relies heavily on women of color who are both disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and experiencing long-term economic disparities rooted in structural racism, the grant program bridged a much-needed gap in the community while ensuring that infants and toddlers were cared for in facilities that help set the stage for them to be successful in life.
“High-quality child care is one of the most important interventions to close opportunity gaps in communities like East St. Louis,” says Ashanti Bryant, IFF’s Director of Early Childhood Services. “CDFIs like IFF have an important role to play in supporting child care providers, particularly in situations where lack of investment and infrastructure hinder their ability to sustain programs and provide the quality care that all children deserve.”
To learn about IFF’s commitment to quality facilities for early childhood education elsewhere in the Midwest, read about our Learning Spaces program. For additional information about how IFF has pivoted during the pandemic to respond to community needs, click here.