The coronavirus pandemic has left Georgians feeling anxious, and physically and emotionally isolated. To offer some stress relief during this uncertain time, the Butts County Life Enrichment Team (LET), a Georgia Family Connection Collaborative serving Butts County since 1990, created 500 mental health care packages for some of the county’s most vulnerable neighbors.

“Our community has been amazing during all of this, but there hadn’t been much done around mental health specifically,” said Butts County LET Executive Director Ann-Marie Pope. “We’re all under so many new pressures. We need to remember to practice self-care. And these packages are a great way to do that.”

The idea for the mental health care packages came about when Pope reached out to Chrissy Crabtree, Butts County Senior Center’s site manager, to find out how the LET could support their efforts during this challenging time.

“LET is doing a phenomenal job in our community of connecting local needs to the resources that can fulfill them,” said Crabtree. “What’s so refreshing to me is that the team has a well-rounded approach to supporting our families. The collaborative is diverse, bringing together professionals from varied organizations that share a common mission of improving the quality of living for everyone in Butts County.”

The need for home-delivered nutritional services at the senior center had more than doubled in just two weeks, but Crabtree was concerned about other ways isolation was impacting the older adults in the community.

“Sheltering in place keeps our most at-risk population safe and healthy, but isolation and inactivity of the body and mind leads to higher risks of physical and cognitive decline,” Crabtree said. “Trying to address those needs at a distance is a challenge. While we’ve seen some success by using technology and social media platforms, these methods aren’t accessible for all our clients. The packages LET created go a long way toward keeping their minds challenged and engaged. And a thoughtful gift like this increases emotional well-being and a feeling of connectedness.”

Pope quickly realized the project could reach many neighbors at once. The collaborative filled reusable bags with puzzle books, coloring books, educational activity books, colored pencils, crayons, and games—all tailored to the recipients. The packages were distributed to neighbors through the senior center, Jackson Housing Authority, and Operation Lunchbox, Inc., which provides weekly groceries to students in need.

“I targeted audiences that already had delivery plans in place for other services,” Pope said. “This way, we were able to customize the bags, drop them off at central locations, and piggyback on other home deliveries already taking place.”

Pope immediately made a list of community partners to team up with on the project and started reaching out via email. Within an hour, she had three confirmations. Within 24 hours, all the funding was secured.

“The Sheriff’s Office believed in the collaborative’s work and this project so strongly that they wanted to contribute $3,000, which was over half our goal,” said Pope.

LET also received contributions from the city of Jackson, Crowe Realty, the Butts County Rotary Club, and the Georgia Family Connection Partnership Low Birthweight Prevention Initiative, funded by a grant from Kaiser Permanente of Georgia.

“Were it not for our history with these partners and our proven trail of work within the community, we would never have been able to pull this together so quickly,” Pope said. “We continue to be in awe of the support of our small community.”

The project was implemented from start to finish in just three weeks. The positive response, including pictures and thank you cards sent by the recipients, has inspired the collaborative to aim to secure funding to make this an annual project.

“Mental health is not exclusive to this time,” Pope said. “It’s an issue that happens year-round and is easy to push to the back burner. I truly believe this low-cost initiative is an effective way to reach community members on a personal level and remind them that, regardless of what is going on in the world, they are not alone.”

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