UD helps with COVID-19 in Sussex County
Photos courtesy of Danielle Swallow and Anna Moshier July 28, 2020
Several University programs help with response through community coalition
Lewes resident Jen Mason, who owns and operates Biblion Books and the Vintage Underground stores in Lewes, said that when she closed her businesses in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, she realized there was no central location with everybody’s contact information so that neighbors could stay connected and help each other through the disaster. She also knew effectively serving the needs of the community would require good communication among the various organizations providing support.
“I work with different groups in the community and some of them have overlap, but a lot of them wouldn’t have any way to reach out and connect with each other,” said Mason. “I realized we need this. We need a way to stay connected.”
That’s why she decided to start the Cape Community Coordination for COVID-19 (CCC4COVID) coalition. With help of members from the University of Delaware, the group has facilitated connections and coordination among nonprofit, faith, civic, business and social service organizations in the community. Through weekly meetings and emails, CCC4COVID provides a way to connect different organizations in the community so that they can collaborate among themselves on COVID-19 relief responses.
As the coalition has developed and begun to find places to support COVID-19 response, each of the members coming from various UD programs has discovered niches where they can be useful.
One of the coalition’s roles is to better coordinate on-the-ground COVID-19 response efforts among the organizations to try to avoid duplication, increase efficiency and close any gaps that exist—such as those of food distribution and emergency supplies to vulnerable populations.
Danielle Swallow, a coastal hazards specialist with the Delaware Sea Grant College Program, is helping with that coordination work and with expanding who is receiving help by extending the initial connections CCC4COVID had from Mason and UD. For instance, Swallow regularly offers emergency preparedness training for older adults in Sussex County, and she was able to connect various senior care organizations with United Way through CCC4COVID when United Way wanted to launch a program to check in on seniors.
“I found out that United Way is partnering with the state to do wellness checks for seniors, calling up seniors that might be socially isolated and checking on them to see if they have any symptoms,” said Swallow. “Our coalition was also doing that in Sussex and there seemed to be a good potential to align our efforts so that we’re not duplicating efforts and doing more with our mutual capabilities.”
Swallow also began engaging with communities in Western Sussex, a region outside of the Greater Lewes/Cape Henlopen area that has a lot of social vulnerability, but one where Delaware Sea Grant has done work. Her efforts there have led to the First State Community Action Agency and a member of the Seaford School District Board of Education to join forces to coordinate COVID-19 response and recovery efforts like CCC4COVID does, expanding its reach and the people it can help.
Continuing her organizational work, Swallow is also documenting how the locally driven, community-based response organization came together and exploring ways CCC4COVID could evolve into a “community resilience organization,” helping to strengthen Sussex County support efforts on an ongoing basis.
“I’ve opened doors of communication between the county and the coalition and I’m opening doors of communication between what the state is doing and the efforts they’re directing in Sussex as it relates to our older adults,” said Swallow. “In the end, we’re going to have better capacity to plan for and respond to disasters and my goal is to get CCC4COVID on the state’s radar so they see this coalition as an asset.”
Nicole Minni, an associate policy scientist and Geographic Information Systems and Graphics specialist at UD’s Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration, has helped the coalition by providing a GIS map of food distribution in Sussex County. The food distribution locations on the map are updated on a weekly basis, which allows the organization to see if they are meeting needs, running out of food at certain locations or if they need to move to a different area based on shifting needs.
The data on the map shows the locations of available food resources, such as food pantries, mobile pantries, mobile groceries, as well as places that provide ready to eat meals and what time those meals are served.
“The map is interactive and allows for users to see the locations and say, ‘This is where we have a family outreach center, and these are the days of operation,’” said Minni. “If you click on the points, you can get more information.”
While initially starting in the Cape Henlopen School District, the mapping project has expanded to cover the entire state and is being used by the state Department of Agriculture for tracking and disseminating information to the public on food distribution resources. Minni has mapped the Department of Education student meal locations, where students are able to get free meals, and expanded the Census information to cover the whole state.
Minni said she is glad to be able to contribute to a great, collaborative effort such as CCC4COVID.
“To me, the people who are on the ground doing the work are the heroes. It’s amazing the work that they’re doing and I’m just happy to be able to put a little visual to it so it can help them reach more people,” said Minni.
Anna Moshier is the manager of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UD in Kent and Sussex Counties. Together with Osher coworker Derek Cole, she has helped connect OLLI’s active membership with opportunities to help through CCC4COVID, like sewing masks the Osher sewing group made early on. She said that it has been great to connect with other organizations and see how everyone involved with the initiative is willing to help those in the community.
“I think that by our combined, shared resources in the nonprofit world, we really just want to do good for people,” said Moshier. “We don’t want to sit around and say ‘it’s somebody else’s job to do.’ It’s our job to help others.”
Thom Thunstrom, a business analyst for UD’s Small Business Development Center, has also been active with CCC4COVID, seeking opportunities for the group to support the local economy.
As owner of not just one but two small businesses in Lewes, Mason epitomizes that segment of the community, and Moshier gave her credit for the success of CCC4COVID by getting the right people together. Now, like the rest of those in the organization, Moshier is hopeful that their success can be mirrored in other parts of the state.
“Our group can only cover so much of a geographic area, so we’re trying to share what we’ve learned with other communities,” said Moshier. “We definitely are willing to share what we’ve learned, and we want to be a resource for other communities who are interested in starting an organization like this.”