Switchpoint leans on business ventures for funding, seeks to fill volunteer gap

ST. GEORGE — As donations and volunteer hours dwindle in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and state funding is cut year after year, the Switchpoint Community Resource Center is turning to its entrepreneurial ventures as a way to become self-reliant.

Volunteers fill boxes of food for those in need inside the Switchpoint food pantry during the COVID-19 pandemic, St. George, Utah, March 18, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“Switchpoint, like most of the nonprofits and businesses around the world, has been hit hard by COVID-19 because it really impacted our volunteer base and our donor base as people have had to hunker down,” Carol Hollowell, Switchpoint’s executive director, told St. George News.

Goal toward self-sufficiency

Long before the pandemic hit, Hollowell said Switchpoint has engaged in entrepreneurial pursuits as a way to acquire income to fund the community center’s operations while also providing its clientele and residents – the community’s homeless and in-need – with a place they could reengage in employment.

Currently, these ventures include the Switchpoint Thrift store, Bed-n-Biscuits Pet Village and Crossover Recovery Center in Hildale.

Between 2014 and 2019, 69% of Switchpoint overall funding was provided through private donations and profits from its business ventures.

Image courtesy of Switchpoint Community Resource Center, St. George | Click to enlarge

Linda Stay, Switchpoint’s director of development, said in an email that Switchpoint had lost a combined 65% of its volunteers and funding due to COVID-19. This has resulted in Switchpoint staff working overtime to fill the gap.

“We encourage our clients to move to self-sufficiency and hold ourselves to the same standards,” Stay said. “Government funding continues to be cut/scaled back, and we simply cannot rely on that source.”

It’s hard to budget when you’re not sure how much funding you may get from the state that year, Hollowell said, adding the center has received less funding year after year.

“We really want to encourage our community to … utilize our businesses – that helps us become self-sustaining,” Hollowell said.

Switchpoint businesses ventures

The first of Switchpoint’s entrepreneurial ventures was its thrift store, which is located just across the street from the shelter on 1300 West just off Sunset Boulevard.

“Our thrift store is going strong,” Hollowell said, adding that it has received increasing load donations as it remains open while other thrift stores are temporarily closed due to pandemic concerns.

At the Switchpoint Thrift Store on 1300 West in St. George, Utah, May 11, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Social distancing and other health safety guidelines outlined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention within the thrift store is highly encouraged and practiced. Hollowell said.

Though many patrons within the thrift store were wearing masks as they shopped Monday, wearing one is not a requirement to enter.

On the side of the building the thrift store is located in, a small line of vehicles was lined up to drop off donations or various kinds.

While the Switchpoint thrift store provides some revenue for the center and allows shelter residents a place to work, it also provides a place where those with low income can also shop for their or their family’s needs, Hollowell said.

At Switchpoint’s Bed-n-Biscuits Pet Village in St. George, Utah, May 11, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The second business, which was originally located on Sunset Boulevard east of Switchpoint, is the Bed-n-Biscuits Pet Village. Now located on Dixie Drive a block north of the Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, the pet village started as a dog grooming daycare service. This has expanded to include cats at the new location.

Switchpoint’s most recent venture, which opened earlier this year, is the Crossover Recovery Center in Hildale. The center is a 12,000-square-foot facility that focuses on serving both men and women who are impoverished, uninsured or underinsured, and fighting to overcome addiction.

“We look at other businesses that would fill a gap that our clients need filled as well as produce some possible income,” Hollowell said. The recovery center “fulfills a need for clients needing drug treatment and also makes an income for Switchpoint,” she said.

Volunteering and donations

Before the pandemic, Switchpoint had a volunteer base of over 300 people who helped keep operations going. During Switchpoint’s fifth anniversary event last September, Hollowell noted that an hour of volunteer service at the center was valued at nearly $19.23.

Volunteers are estimated to have donated 330,000 hours between 2014 and 2019. This amounts to a value of over $6.3 million over a five-year span.

Volunteers fill boxes of food for those in need inside the Switchpoint food pantry during the COVID-19 pandemic, St. George, Utah, March 18, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“It takes us over 300 volunteers a month just to stay open. Let that sink in a moment,” Hollowell said at the time. “That means our kitchen, and our pantry, and our thrift store, and our computer labs. It takes an army.”

As many of Switchpoint’s volunteers are retired and considered to be at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19 due to their age, the center’s volunteer base has dropped off, leaving it in dire need of new volunteers.

“We have to stay open 24/7 no matter what,” Hollowell said.

In mid-March, when state and federal responses to COVID-19 began to ramp up, donations to Switchpoint’s food pantry also began to go down as demand started to jump. This has prompted Switchpoint to reach out to the public for additional donations to keep up with demand.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the food pantry regularly served 400-600 households each week, including seniors, veterans and children.

St. George City purchased the Inn at St. George, located at 60 West St. George Boulevard in 2016. It is currently being used as a “quarantine hotel” by the Switchpoint Community Resource Center, St. George, Utah, Dec. 1, 2016 | File photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

In order to protect volunteers from potentially contracting the virus, Switchpoint has enacted social distancing and sanitation measures similar to those found in stores and supermarkets.

“We are continually sanitizing every high-touch area, from doorknobs, to desktops, to light switches,” Hollowell said, adding masks are required for large groups and Switchpoint has “sanitizer galore” available for staff and volunteers to use.

Those interested in learning more about the volunteer opportunities Switchpoint offers can visit the community resource center’s website for more information.

Keeping the shelter coronavirus free

In order to keep COVID-19 from breaking out among Switchpoint’s residents and staff, Hollowell said they have turned the St. George Inn on St. George Boulevard into a “quarantine hotel” for those who test positive for the virus.

Members of the area’s homeless population who may have tested positive for the virus or have arrived from known coronavirus hotspots are able to stay at the St. George Inn for the recommended 14 days so they do not spread the infection to Switchpoint’s own shelter residents.

“I think that’s why we’ve been so lucky on having no cases here at the shelter,” Hollowell said. “We’re very, very cautious with who comes in and where they’ve come from … We feel it was the right thing to do to keep our community and Switchpoint’s clientele safe.”

However, this has placed an additional burden on Switchpoint’s staff, which is another reason why Hollowell is hoping to bring in more volunteers.

In addition to the quarantine hotel, Switchpoint is also partnered with Intermountain Healthcare and the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, which allows the shelter to keep up to date with the best practices and protocols in relation to responding to the pandemic, Hollowell said.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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