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As the new coronavirus spreads, local nonprofits are beginning to respond and make plans to ensure they can continue to help those in need.

The Bozeman Help Center, a 24-hour crisis and referral system, is preparing to answer questions about COVID-19, although imminent threats and emergencies should still be reported directly to 911.

The help center is now gathering information from national sources about the new coronavirus for volunteers to have when they answer the phones and is talking with local law enforcement, Gallatin County Emergency Management and the Gallatin City-County Health Department to determine what information should be disseminated by whom, said program manager Kathy Allen.

The help center is also preparing for higher call volumes and considering ways to quickly train additional volunteers, who could provide information specifically on COVID-19.

“At this point, everything is so new that we are just trying to gather data and stay in touch with local organizations as we plan and prepare,” Allen said.

The Bozeman Senior Center may close to the public, said executive director Shannon Bondy.

“We’re still operating with fluidity, but we are considering closing because we are serving the most vulnerable population with regards to this virus,” she said.

If the senior center closed, Meals on Wheels — a program in which volunteers drop off meals to homebound seniors in Bozeman, Manhattan, Three Forks and West Yellowstone — would continue. Those who attend the communal lunch at the senior center would be able to call to sign up to receive a prepared meal instead.

In preparation for these changes, the senior center is now making frozen meals and looking for volunteers who are able to deliver food, Bondy said.

Family Promise, which works with families facing homelessness, is looking to reduce the risk of COVID-19 by limiting contact between families and volunteers, said executive director Christel Chvilicek.

Family Promise has a network of churches that provide places for homeless families to eat dinner and sleep. The location typically changes each week, with volunteers coordinating the move. Family Promise is now looking to keep its shelter in one location on a temporary basis to limit the need for volunteers and to reduce their interactions with families.

“A lot of the talk is about how this is affecting vulnerable populations, which includes older people, who are often our volunteers,” she said.

Family Promise is also assisting those who are now renting but could become homeless if they lose their job, have fewer shifts or become sick.

At the same time that Family Promise foresees assisting more families, the pandemic is impacting the economy, which makes Chvilicek worried about a decline in donations.

“It could be tough because we could see a greater need for our services at the same time we could see a decline in donations,” she said. “But we will continue to offer our services.”

The Greater Gallatin United Way is part of the Southwest Montana Community Organizations Active in Disasters, a group of local organizations that prepare for and coordinates emergency response with local government agencies. As part of the group, the Greater Gallatin United Way is set up to manage fundraising, distribute donations and coordinate volunteers for the local response to COVID-19.

The Southwest Montana Community Organizations Active in Disasters is focused on “a compassionate and equitable response,” which means focusing on those who might be disproportionately affected like hourly workers or those facing food insecurity, said Danica Jamison, president and CEO of the Greater Gallatin United Way.

“We want to create a coordinated response to ensure that nonprofits and local government are working together, have the same information and are following all guidelines and policies,” she said. “That way we can have the best information on how and what services to provide.”

The Greater Gallatin United Way’s Resilience Project, a mental health initiative, is working on ways to address the increased anxiety and stress that may be associated with COVID-19. The Resilience Project workshops, which are scheduled through May, will move online.

The Human Resource Development Council, which runs dozens of programs including the Gallatin Valley Food Bank and warming centers in Bozeman and Livingston, has not made changes to its operations, said president and CEO Heather Grenier. A fundraiser for the Livingston Warming Center, which was scheduled for Saturday, has been canceled.

HRDC is brainstorming how it might alter programs like food delivery or obtain additional supplies should the situation surrounding COVID-19 change.

“We are preparing and assessing but not taking action at this time,” Grenier said.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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