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With You, Playtime Rises to the Occasion

Photo credit: Ryan Maine

Around the world, most families sheltering in place are struggling to develop new rhythms with each other, to find ways to keep their children occupied and safe while not losing their sanity. At the same time, the call for social distancing has exposed dramatic disparities. For the families Playtime serves, homelessness makes everything harder. Single parents need to take their entire families to the grocery store on inconsistent bus lines, only to find many staples missing. Most don’t have computers to help their children keep up with their distance learning plans. And with multiple family members living together in a single room, tensions can run high.

What’s it like for a child when your world is reduced to a single room?

Petula Dvorak’s March 27 column in the Washington Post, “Coronavirus shrinks a homeless child’s world to a 323-square-foot motel room,” tells of a child and his mother adjusting to their “new normal” under quarantine. It paints an important picture of the reality that more than 500 children and their parents are now facing living in the city’s overflow shelter hotels.

Though the world has suddenly changed, I’m proud of how our volunteers, supporters, board, and staff have stepped up to adapt to ensure children keep playing, and that parents will continue to get the support they need to weather this pandemic. When the schools closed, we quickly mobilized to provide “Playtime to Go” kits to give children living in shelters fun and substantive activities to lift their spirits and keep them entertained.

In mid-March, we delivered children's books, coloring books and art supplies, sticker and activity books, active toys and games, plus Girl Scout cookies and fresh bread from Lyon Bakery to families at the hotels. Everything was donated, and the families were THRILLED! Parents were delighted and the children were so excited. Moms kept saying, "We miss y'all," and "Thank you all so much, we really appreciate you thinking of us." They seemed surprised that someone thought about them stuck in their rooms.

We have reached out by phone to all Playtime families to assess their needs, find out how distance learning is going for their children, and offer emergency referrals as needed.

In fact, our social worker held five FaceTime sessions with children last week, providing extra support as they showed her their homework and excitedly jumped around. One little girl pulled out her goal sheet they had worked on weeks earlier to show the progress she’d made on some simple behavioral goals, such as practicing patience with her younger sister—which she had successfully achieved for an entire day!

Playtime has successfully made the pivot to keep children playing in the confines of their rooms and to break through the isolation to support parents. Our second round of play kits will soon be mailed directly (to limit exposure) to families we serve. And what started as a list of family activities parents can do within the confines of a single room (no materials required) will become a biweekly Parent Survival Guide with more practical tips.

With the help of volunteers recording videos of themselves reading stories, donors like you funding our play kits, and staff connecting with families, Playtime is committed to ensuring our families feel connected, supported, and loved.

Join our #HelpChildrenRise spring campaign to keep the play kits and emergency services coming during this unprecedented national health crisis. You being there for Playtime means we can keep showing up for the children!