On the road again: Delivering social services to neighbors in need

Outreach vehicle helps Pickaway County Community Action provide assistance in rural Ohio

A drive through rural Ohio sparked an idea that’s improving the lives of people facing poverty in Pickaway County.

Nick Pruitt of the Pickaway County Community Action (PICCA) organization responded to a call last July to help an elderly woman who, after a lifetime of working, had been laid off because of COVID-19. Due to health concerns and lack of transportation, the woman was unable to visit the PICCA office in Circleville, the county seat 40 minutes south of Columbus.

Pruitt used his personal vehicle to drive to her home and register her for PICCA’s poverty-fighting programs, such as emergency food service, rent assistance, home repairs, and utility bill relief, a program Pruitt oversees as the non-profit’s energy director.

While speaking with the woman at her doorstep, people “came out of their apartments asking us for help,” Pruitt remembers.

The PICCA team realized the pandemic had not only increased the number of people who needed assistance, it had also introduced new barriers to accessing social services support. In some cases, these neighbors-in-need lacked internet or transportation options, Pruitt says. Or, they had health issues and couldn’t risk going into public spaces and getting ill.

Pruitt and his colleagues had an idea: PICCA needed an outreach vehicle so staff could literally “meet people where they’re at,” he explains. “We could bring services to the people, wherever they live in the county.”

By the end of the summer, PICCA received funding to purchase a Dodge Caravan for the initiative. A $6,000 grant from Enbridge will outfit the vehicle’s interior as needed.

PICCA representatives also use the Caravan for homeless outreach activities—transporting much-needed supplies to local camps, and connecting them with available PICCA services that can lift these clients out of homelessness.

Arrow An arrow pointing diagonally up and to the right

Other PICCA outreach initiatives include a fresh produce drive-thru, twice a month, that served fresh fruits and vegetable to more than 15,000 Pickaway County residents in 2020—and is on track to eclipse that total in 2021.

“We are a non-profit and rely on organizations like Enbridge, that have corporate grants for community assistance initiatives,” Pruitt says. “When a client calls the office and requests services, we’ll be able to hop in the vehicle and go to their residence to get them signed up.”

Launching the vehicle has led to additional opportunities to benefit people in need. “We’re looking at digitizing our processes and using online platforms,” Pruitt adds, noting that programs to support access to technology and internet would be needed, too.

In the coming months, the outreach vehicle will be branded with eye-catching vinyl graphics to catch people’s attention as it travels around the county bringing services to neighbors in need.

PICCA has always strived to deliver the right service at the right time.

Now, they’re reaching people in the right place, too.

(TOP PHOTO: Pickaway County Community Action's outreach vehicle, a Dodge Caravan, which PICCA representatives use to make house calls and register residents for PICCA’s poverty-fighting programs, such as emergency food service, rent assistance, home repairs, and utility bill relief.)