An Action for a Better Community customer was among the first people to die from COVID-19. The agency then declared racism a public health crisis, acknowledging the systemic inequities that led to the deaths of many individuals of color.
This anecdote is part of a recently released national report that highlights the human services response to the pandemic. Documenting activities from March 2020 through June 2022, the report was released by the National Community Action Partnership. Titled “Resilience: The Community Action COVID-19 story,” it draws attention to community action agencies—ABC is one of them—that came together to help their communities nationwide.
ABC is focused on promoting and providing opportunities for the low-income population to help them become self-sufficient.
The network of local community action agencies administers $14 billion in financial resources during a typical year, officials say. The report offers an opportunity to measure impact.
“The global COVID-19 pandemic transformed the world and thrust the U.S. into one of the greatest periods of economic, physical and social fragility in modern times,” says Denise Harlow, National Community Action Partnership CEO. “During the pandemic, community action agencies kept people fed, housed and safe. They acted as lifelines across America, helping communities where needed most—supporting small businesses, leading vaccination efforts, opening shelters for those experiencing homelessness, aiding students with remote learning and so much more.”
Rooted in the fight for racial equity and other community issues, ABC used its essential programming at the height of the pandemic to address inequities. In January 2021, the agency held a virtual conference drawing attention to the link between Covid and structural racism. Called “Racism is a Public Health Crisis – Attacking the 2 Pandemics,” the event brought together business leaders, community and nonprofit professionals, care providers, consumers and stakeholders to connect and create strategies to improve community outcomes.
In the last couple of years, ABC was able to help meet other needs as well with funds from federal, state and local agencies:
■ ABC delivered 1,344 meals to customers’ homes, and 750 families received food distributed at four ABC locations. The project was a partnership with Foodlink and other community partners.
■ Using funds from the CARES Act, Head Start CARES Act and ESL, the agency purchased and distributed nearly 1,150 computers for children and families, providing access to the internet and technology for employment, education, and medical purposes. It also offered technology training for those who requested assistance.
■ ABC delivered 743 care packages (personal items and personal protective equipment) to vulnerable agency customers.
■ More than 350 families received baby supplies: diapers, baby wipes, and infant food formula, cereal, and juice.
■ ABC provided more than 10,700 telehealth services related to stress, depression and addiction.
“Of the various things listed above that ABC did in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am most proud that we allocated $1 million of relief funding to help bridge the digital divide by delivering devices and technology access to homes,” says Jerome Underwood, president and CEO of ABC. “While acknowledging the transactional nature of this support, we and our fellow agencies in the National Community Action Partnership continue to work on the transformational issues that give rise to and sustain the needs of people on the economic margins.”
For Lisa Mowat-Spears, a student in the Adult Education Program and the recipient of a Chromebook, says ABC’s assistance has been a boon.
“It’s been 40-plus years since I’ve been in school. ABC has provided me with the tools and confidence to come back to work on my GED,” she says. “I don’t come from a generation that uses this modern technology, so learning how to use this (Chromebook) has been a welcomed change and it has changed my life quite a bit.”