How you define your community can vary – your city, your tribe, your church – but one thing is clear: In challenging times, we need each other.
Positive relationships and a strong sense of community are associated with many types of benefits, including better mental and physical health and stronger academic and economic outcomes. In the case of COVID-19, community has been our ballast, steadying us while we navigate stormy and uncharted waters. We have been tethered together with the unified goal of slowing the spread of the virus and caring for those in need, the latter growing organically as genuine and immediate needs arose.
Over the past three months, individuals stepped into unique roles to help, neighbors supported each other, and nonprofits filled essential gaps. Our community rallied.
We could do this because our first responders, healthcare workers, and grocers showed up every day to do their jobs. They fulfilled their obligation to their community with unwavering commitment, and because they did their duty, individuals, neighbors and nonprofits were able to come alongside them and help in new and original ways.
As we reflect on the drastic measures taken across the world to achieve those shared goals, we see that many of the COVID-19 impacts were immediate. Businesses and restaurants closed, hospitals in many communities were overwhelmed, and elected officials were unable to convene in person to conduct the people’s business. Essential and non-essential became common distinctions, and we heard unprecedented, uncertain times, and record unemployment claims as frequent refrains.
And yet, with the same speed in response, community leaders formed impromptu groups to assess and prioritize needs. “What are you hearing?” “What’s the most pressing need today? Tomorrow? Next week?”
The list of needs was telling—eviction assistance so families would not be on the street, groceries so families would be fed, loan forgiveness to keep small businesses afloat, funds to cover household expenses, volunteers to make cloth masks and stuff backpacks with food for school-age children who might not otherwise eat.
This was going to take a village, or in our case, a nation, a state, and a local community. Past differences took a back seat to solving pressing problems, and the effort of building and leaning on community to help those with urgent needs became the priority.
Through leadership at the state and federal levels, personal protective equipment was delivered to Colorado, student loan payments were deferred, Paycheck Protection Program loans helped small businesses, and rental and mortgage assistance was made available. Colorado’s public utility companies announced they would not shut off power or water if bills went unpaid. With support from Mile High United Way, the Colorado COVID-19 Relief Fund was born to help businesses, food banks, and nonprofits continue to meet their mission through grants.
In Mesa County, local churches cooked meals for foster families, community organizations held food drives, and Caring for our Home Community raised more than $40,000 to support local restaurants while working to solve hunger issues. Municipalities earmarked and approved relief funds, young people made hand-sewn cloth masks for front-line workers, and neighbors grocery shopped for their higher risk elders.
We banded together and a stronger community was realized—a community that served as our secure anchor in turbulent times.
We know the storm is not completely behind us. We know we must stay the course. As we move ahead we are encouraged by how our community has risen up to meet needs and address challenges, and we trust we will do it again if and when it’s required.