Report highlights community action agencies’ response to COVID

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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.

ABC and other organizations in the Black Agenda Group launched the Racism is a Public Health Crisis campaign, imploring community members to sign a pledge to take action.

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.” 

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

2 thoughts on “Report highlights community action agencies’ response to COVID

  1. It all pints to EDUCATION. If the city of Rochester could just convince the RCSD to educate as opposed to allowing students to drop out,….ALL of us would be better off. That is my answer to all of our woes, especially the woes of Rochester, NY. It’s fundamental, period. And regarding the COVID deaths and racism,….my father was in the very best nursing home in Monroe County. Apparently COVID was color blind. He acquired COVID in that top of the line nursing home and died. I’m not going to tell you what he paid per month because you would not believe it. That said he never earned more than $20.00 per hour in his lifetime. He did manage to save a significant amount of money to pay for his “room and board”. Yup,..he was white and even worked for a Black family. I clearly remember him telling us about that. The Lady of the house asked my father, “do you have any concern about working for us?”. It caught him off guard and he answered her with, “why would you ask that?”. She had to explain it to him. Not all of us are racist. And I tire of being looked upon as such. It does nothing for the issue and just keeps the racism active and disrupting society. My father never had a racist bone in his body. He had seen it all, from WW II to the riots in Rochester, to the nation wide riots. (peaceful demonstrations) He passed at 101.

  2. The Covid efforts of the ABC and others were an abject failure: deaths rates in the US minority communities were some of the highest in the world. This self congratulatory piece about the value of ABC’s efforts is revolting.

    The simple administration of vitamin D to Rochester minorities, who as a group are very deficient, would have prevented many deaths from Covid, as well as reducing the high rates of prostate cancer and breast cancer as a side benefit. Vitamin D promotion should be an ongoing ABC effort. This can be accomplished at minimal cost. A large multi-national German study showed that the Covid death rate dropped to nearly zero in people with a vitamin D level over 50 ng / ml.

    Further, Covid should, like all viral illnesses, be treated early. Many effective antivirals and immune support measures that were know early in the Covid epidemic, e.g. the hydroxychloroquine recommended by President Trump. The dissemination of information about the value of early detection / treatment by ABC would have also saved many lives.

    Within 2 months of the first Rochester cases, Costco had end caps of vitamin D and zinc and vitamin C, all very effective agents. So, this was not esoteric knowledge that ABC should not have been expected to realize at the time. At the least, their efforts were incompetent. Hopefully they were not willfully duplicitous with larger efforts to suppress life-saving information. No victory lap can be justified.

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