Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Abba House in Dawson County is struggling to stay afloat and continue caring for women and children in the local community, non-profit leaders say.
Abba House, a 15-month residential ministry program aimed at helping women heal from addictions, abuse, or self-destructive behaviors, allows women to live at the organization’s house in Dawson County, attend group sessions, and have different jobs and positions to teach them everything from leadership to cooking skills.
But with the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and restrictions to help stop the virus’s spread, nonprofits including Abba House have been struggling to make ends meet.
Abba House caseworker Amber Garner explained that the nonprofit’s main source of income is their event and catering business, the Carriage Venue. But with the recent statewide shelter-in-place order and the social distancing guidelines that have been affected for weeks now, events such as parties and weddings are no longer bringing in any income.
“With social distancing, there are no events going on here and everything we had scheduled has pretty much been canceled,” Garner said, “so basically our income has been cut drastically.”
Another source of help for the nonprofit is their partnership with the North Georgia Mountain Food Bank. Under normal circumstances, Abba House representatives visit the food bank twice a week to pick up food donations, but lately, this has been cut down to once a week.
“Lately we’ve been going once a week and even then, it’s just been like a small box of bread,” Garner said. “Our girls are on a strict diet here and they eat healthily - it’s all about body, mind, soul, spirit and getting healthy in all the ways you can. So, we have our girls eating healthy and learning how to cook healthy, but all the fruits and veggies that we used to get donated aren’t coming in anymore.”
Abba House also runs a food pantry out of their Dawson location, but with barely any donations coming into the organization they, in turn, have nothing to offer the public.
“We do have a food bank that’s here that we do every Monday, but right now we’ve had to shut it down because we don’t have enough to give away,” Garner said. “So it would be nice to have food to give away again whenever that time comes.”
In addition to their income and food donations being affected by the virus, the women in the program are also affected by not being able to see their families.
“Family restoration is a big part of Abba House. We really focus on helping the woman to heal, reuniting her with her family and helping restore those relationships that were broken by addiction and things like that,” Garner said. “But families aren’t allowed to visit right now so that’s definitely affecting the women. When you’re already separated from your family and then it gets cut to where you can’t even see them, it’s painful.”
Feeling isolated is a dangerous thing for women recovering from any kind of addiction or abuse, Garner said, and this is now a concern while the women are not allowed to see their family.
“The recovery community is founded on being in relationship with one another, and isolation can be dangerous for an addict,” Garner said. “Now more than ever it is imperative that we are able to help women have a place to find freedom from the things that kept them bound.”
Abba House is unique in that it allows the children of the women in the program to stay there as well. But with Dawson County schools being closed due to COVID-19, the women are having to take turns missing group sessions and working in order to help take care of the children.
“We currently have 10 women in the program and seven children living here,” Garner said. “When school is in it’s a lot easier but now, we’ve had to divide up the schedule where we’ve had girls going to work and a couple girls watching the kids so we’re having to rotate them out and it’s making scheduling a little bit more complicated as well.”
The organization is trying not to take in any new women amidst the shelter-in-place order, but they are taking each application on a case-by-case basis.
“We don’t want to turn anyone away, but we also have to protect the women that are here right now,” Garner said.
There are several ways that the community can help out Abba House during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The main thing that comes to mind is prayers,” Garner said. “We’re also taking food donations and monetary donations.”
Another way to help is with clothing donations, she said.
“We usually do a clothing exchange and let our girls go down to our thrift store in Perry and swap out seasonal clothing, but we haven’t been able to do that,” Garner said. “So right now they only have their winter clothes, they don’t have any summer clothes. So that’s another thing we’re trying to figure out how to attain for 10 different women.”
Monetary donations can be made on the Abba House website at https://abbahouse.com/giving-back or via mail to the organization’s address.
For food or clothing donations, you can call Abba House at (678) 208-2000 or call Amber directly at (678) 736-3386.
“We’re just trying to keep our lights on,” Garner said. “And we’re definitely trying to keep the fear away from the women right now and try and help them be able to focus on their healing.”