Toyota donates four vehicles to help county nonprofits expand services during pandemic and beyond

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically increased demand for many Washtenaw County nonprofits' supportive services. That's why Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) recently donated four new Toyota Siennas and grant funds to four local nonprofits, allowing them to expand their operations to meet that demand in new ways.


The four recipient organizations are Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels (YMOW), Michigan Ability Partners (MAP), SOS Community Services, and Saline Area Social Service (SASS). YMOW received a $25,000 grant from TMNA, SOS received $10,000, and MAP and SASS each received $5,000.


"Funds are important, but a vehicle gets folks around," says Praveena Ramaswami, community relations and corporate communications for TMNA. "That's a huge capital cost for organizations, but it can also solve a lot of problems."


YMOW has already stepped up its meal delivery service to seniors during the pandemic. But Sandy Bosch, YMOW communications coordinator, says the new Sienna will allow the organization to add a brand-new delivery route serving 50 additional clients, some of whom have been on a waitlist for service.


"Along with people who are newly homebound due to the current crisis, many of YMOW’s existing clients no longer have the support they once relied on," Bosch says. "That’s because their caregivers are sheltering themselves. Many have children to care for, some work in healthcare and can’t afford the risk of infecting their loved ones, and others are seniors themselves."


Bosch says the new vehicle will assure 50 more families "that their loved one has food and support while they continue to shelter in place."


During the pandemic, SOS has seen a 30% increase in the number of requests for food through its food pantry – some of them coming from people who don't have transportation available to actually access the service. Rhonda Weathers, SOS executive director, says the organization is currently developing a new program that will offer food delivery to those individuals using SOS' new Sienna.


Weathers says the new vehicle will also help SOS better serve families who are making use of its emergency housing services. The organization recently worked with a family of seven, but didn't have a vehicle large enough to transport all of them.


"This barrier delayed our service to them, and also made it much more difficult to help them acquire groceries and needed items," Weathers says. "The new van will allow us to transport seven people with ease."


While MAP's office has been closed during the pandemic, the nonprofit has been delivering food bags and other supplies to its clients, who include veterans; people with disabilities, mental illness, or addictions; and those experiencing homelessness.


"The need is greater now because of a decrease in income due to job loss, so my team is out a lot," says MAP CEO Jan Little. "We continue to place homeless veterans and others in our program who are homeless into housing, and [we] use our own vehicle to do that. Having a Toyota Sienna to transport participants and their belongings is a great blessing."


While many local nonprofits' work primarily serves urban areas, particularly the 48197 and 48198 ZIP codes, Ramaswami notes that there's also a "rural low-income population that people don't think about." SASS focuses much of its work on that population. Anne Cummings, SASS executive director, says the organization has nearly doubled the food it provides through grocery deliveries and its food pantry during the pandemic.


"With the help of Toyota’s donation, our organization will have more flexibility to coordinate larger grocery orders and greater accessibility to deliver weekly food to a growing level of families and seniors who are unable to leave their homes," she says.


Ramaswami says helping nonprofits find new ways to bring goods and services to those in need perfectly fits Toyota's definition of itself as a mobility company.


"We're thinking about how people move and will move in the future," she says. "But from a social, community standpoint, it's more about upward mobility. How can we help people move upward from their current situation? How can we solve societal gaps?"


For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.


Patrick Dunn is the managing editor of Concentrate.

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