ROCKLAND—From Summer 2017 until March 2020, the youth center of The Landing Place was filled with 30 to 40 teenagers from surrounding communities on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The kids who walked through the doors of the drop-in center were considered high-risk in that they might not have enough food that day or perhaps needed some clothes or bathroom supplies.
Some struggled in an unstable housing situation while others had personal conflicts or family issues weighing heavily on them. Kids who didn’t have regular access to the kind of resources and supplies that could help them get ahead on a day-to-day basis went to The Landing Place.
When the drop-in center doors had to close due to the state’s restrictions on indoor capacity at the start of the pandemic in 2020, it cut off a lifeline for those teens. And the doors have still not been able to fully open to having them all come back in.
Due to the isolation and uncertainty, the long stretches of time out of school, and other factors, the fallout from the COVID-19 virus has caused a “mental health state of emergency” for children and adolescents, according to a statement from three organizations that represent child health-practitioners.
Mental health emergency visits amongst kids and teens have spiked during the pandemic.
Today, the living room is empty. Boxes of clothes and food take up the space where the kids used to hang around.
The nook with couches and a beanbag chair have been replaced with a Free Store of donated clothes and supplies. But, while the circumstances have drastically changed, The Landing Place’s mission to connect and serve these kids has not wavered. The drop-in center is still open by appointment or if someone happens to stop by while the staff is on-site.
“If a kid just wants to stop in, say hello, grab a bite to eat, and grab some clothes, or bathroom products, they still can,” said Joseph Hufnagel, Director of The Landing Place. “Because of COVID, there’s a limit to how much indoor programming we can do, so we can only do small groups inside.”
“Socks are the number one thing I need when I come here,” said Timmy, 15. “I usually just browse through the clothes to see if there’s anything I like, sometimes underwear, body wash, and toothpaste.”
“The girls also need socks, underwear, bras, coats,” said Kim Bernard, the Maker’s Space coordinator. “And they like special beauty things like face masks and conditioner, nice soaps, and body wash.”
The Free Store
Inside the building, the staff has created an area of new and used clothing, jackets, hats, mittens, gloves, boots, as well as backpacks filled with school supplies—all free to any teen who needs it.
“We get in-kind donations from both organizations and people who just want to donate,” said Peter Cook, Youth Center Co-Coordinator. “Normally I send a text with each family after I drop items off. It’s like Instacart but free; I just ask if there’s anything else they need.”
“We work collaboratively in the community with a number of school groups and youth-focused agencies,” said Hufnagel. “Whenever there is surplus, everyone is kind of sharing and helping each other out.”
The way it works is that kids, teens, and families can simply pick out what they need. There are no forms, no paperwork requirements.
“It’s very informal. People just email me or text me what they need,” said Hufnagel. “And if they can’t come to The Landing Place, then The Landing Place comes to them weekly, as part of their Doorstep Deliveries in a van filled with comfort food, heat-and-serve suppers, hygiene products, art supplies, and seasonal clothing.”
“The Landing Place teardrop trailer, built by the kids, is another lifeline,” said Cook. “It’s a trailer with a coat rack and storage bins and we fill that with the Free Store items and drive that to schools.”
Every once in awhile, the Free Store is open to the community on a specific day. Stay connected through their Facebook page for the next day.
The Landing Place hopes as CDC restrictions continue to ease, they will be able to open the drop-in center doors once again to more youth in the near future. They will still continue to deliver items out to the community if and when restrictions ease.
The Landing Place has many more functions such as helping teens earn gift cards for community service, a Maker’s Space, free therapy, mental health support, case management, and a transitional living program for youth at the risk of homelessness.
Find out more at The Landing Place.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com