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Safety Net Alliance helps low-income families in Kentucky

By Cindy Schroeder

The Kentucky Enquirer

NEWPORT, Ky. -- When the Safety Net Alliance first met in June 2007, representatives of five nonprofits discussed ways they could work together to avoid duplication of services and better serve Northern Kentucky families in need.

Today, the Safety Net Alliance has grown from a handful of social service agencies, churches, educational institutions, government entities and other groups to a collaborative representing more than 100 organizations and nearly 250 individuals. Safety net services are considered those that meet basic human needs, including food and shelter.

Northern Kentucky's Safety Net Alliance has become so successful that it inspired Clermont County's social service agencies and other nonprofits to form a similar group. Founded in 2010, the Clermont County Safety Net Alliance has nearly 50 member partners. And like Northern Kentucky's Safety Net Alliance, it's constantly growing.

"Our team may be a bit smaller, but we have a lot of enthusiasm," said Ruchi Bawa, web administrator for the Clermont County Safety Alliance and service learning coordinator for the University of Cincinnati.

The collaborative approach helps meet basic needs through the sharing of resources, information and best practices, representatives of agencies in the Northern Kentucky safety alliance say. The collaborative also helps local agencies identify gaps in services and match partner agencies with needed resources.

Aside from its monthly meetings, the group has a website where members can share information on everything from food, clothing and other needs to job postings and upcoming events. The site contains a listing of member agencies, and members can post alerts to the whole group for quick responses on urgent matters.

"For example, if an agency has excess food, it can send out an alert and get replies almost immediately," said Paul Gottbrath, executive director of Be Concerned, which helps low-income Northern Kentuckians obtain basic necessities. "That way, donated food doesn't go to waste."

The organization also connects local nonprofits so that they're better acquainted with each other's missions and customers.

Before the collaboration, agencies used a blind referral system. People in need often were referred to multiple agencies for help.

"The Safety Net Alliance has helped improve (customers') access to things they need in an emergency," said Karen Yates, executive director of the Hosea House soup kitchen in Newport. "They're not having to run to a bunch of different agencies when there may be one or two that can help them. I don't need to reinvent the wheel. I want to be aware of what's out there so that when I send my clients out, I'm not sending them on a wild goose chase."

The Safety Net Alliance was the brainchild of Barbara Schaefer, executive director of the Butler Foundation, and Denise Govan, who was then with Brighton Center's social service agency and now works with the Life Learning Center in Covington.

"Historically, charities have been forced to compete with each other for limited resources," Schaefer said. "Through the Safety Net Alliance, we brought organizations together to talk about how like-minded organizations could help one another. Our mission is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of Safety Net services provided in Northern Kentucky."

One area in which the Safety Net Alliance has worked together is the distribution of surplus foods from grocers and other vendors to nonprofits. These days, the alliance unloads food from the Freestore Foodbank on scheduled days at various member organizations in Northern Kentucky so that members of the alliance can share in the donations.

In recent years, the Safety Net Alliance also has taken over operation of the annual postal carriers' food drive to ensure that distribution to Northern Kentucky nonprofits "is more even handed," Schaefer said.

Alliance members also are better informed about services their fellow agencies are providing, she said.

"It's all about improving efficiency and effectiveness for the individuals and families that we serve," Schaefer said. "It used to be that people had to run around to eight different agencies to cobble together $300 for rent if they had an emergency. Now, chances are better they can go to one agency and tap into its resources."


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