Some Pittsburgh Black mothers reliant on ‘huge support system’ – Family and friends helping with childcare, groceries and a positive outlook

by Merecedes J. Williams, For New Pittsburgh Courier

When Homewood resident Allison McLeod heard the news of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf closing all K-12 schools in the state, she instantly felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With the change in schedules, I had to scatter my son around from family member to family member, all while ensuring he stayed up to date with his studies,” she told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview.

As many Pennsylvanians scrambled to purchase groceries and toiletries, McLeod and other working mothers had an additional layer—finding childcare and balancing work with children.

With schools closed, McLeod now has to put even more food on the table for her son, Christopher. Additionally, as a behavioral specialist for two companies and founder of Building Bridges Parent Support Group, her work requires her to travel to three different counties. With all of the traveling for work, her biggest fear is, “becoming sick and bringing anything home that can compromise my son’s health.”

Health plays a big factor for mother of two, Willesha Miller. The Garfield resident, who works at a local hospital, is concerned about her son’s health, as he has previously suffered from pneumonia three times. Those who have had or currently have pre-existing health conditions are more susceptible to harsher complications from COVID-19, or novel coronavirus.

“The biggest inconvenience so far is trying to keep my kids occupied and food in the house,” Miller told the Courier. “It’s getting so expensive having to constantly buy food since they are home all day, seven days a week. I am honestly getting to the point of having anxiety if schools are closed longer.”

Jena Cox, of the North Side, also has two children, and they may each miss an educational milestone this school year. Her son, Jaoir, 10, is looking forward to his promotion to the fifth grade. And Cox’s daughter, Jaiden, 4, is looking forward to her promotion to kindergarten. “It would be very unfortunate if they don’t get to experience and celebrate their accomplishments with their peers and family,” Cox said.

For K-12 students in every part of the country, school is on hold, while the country tries to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

Forty-six states currently have all its public schools closed. One state, Oklahoma, has canceled classes for the remainder of the school year.

In Washington, D.C., it was announced that the public schools would be closed until at least April 24. Students in the nation’s largest school district, the New York City Department of Education, are out until at least April 20. Across the border in Ohio, all public schools are closed until at least April 6, just like Pennsylvania. Factor in the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ previously scheduled spring break, and students in that district won’t return to classes until at least April 14.

Between workbooks and online materials sent home from the school, Cox also purchased workbooks just in case her children run out of academic materials.

Most moms are attributing their heads above water to their great support systems; family and friends chipping in to look after children and purchase supplies while school’s out. “My family always steps in,” Cox said.

Both McLeod and Miller also rely on their “huge support system,” who looks after their children while they go to work.

But one employer is making sure their staff can work from home.

Tara Dean, of Penn Hills, is both a working mom and banking services manager who allows her staff of 10 to work from home during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Dean took the necessary steps to make sure her staff, some of whom had never worked from home, had the ability to do so. “I started by ensuring all my staff had all the necessary technology to work from home such as VPN tokens, extra monitors, and access to a laptop,” she told the Courier.

With two check-ins per day, Dean prioritizes the work-life balance. “I do not want a mother, or any of my staff for that matter, to be concerned about their employment status. They need to be mentally, physically, and financially available for their families during this crisis.”

The United Way of Southwestern PA is urging families to call their COVID-19 crisis hotline, connecting individuals and families with food pantries, health care services, utility and eviction prevention assistance, and more. Dial 2-1-1, text the zip code to 898-211, or visit www.pa211sw.org. Individuals can also sign up to receive text messages with the most up-to-date information and resources at pa211sw.org/text-alerts.

(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: NORTH SIDE RESIDENT JENA COX, with her children, Jaoir, left, and Jaiden.)

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