Letter: Despite our pain, community members have responded during this emergency

Almost exactly one month ago, the reality of what a global pandemic meant for Addison County was still setting in. People were just getting into the habit of not shaking hands and still needed to clarify whether meetings were happening in person or via Zoom. With much regret, events around the community were being postponed and we all hoped that maybe, just maybe, they’d still happen — and soon! Local businesses were starting to feel the pinch and everyone started worrying about hours being reduced, or worse, jobs being lost. At United Way of Addison County we launched Addison County Responds, our COVID-19 emergency relief campaign, and wondered if fundraising during a pandemic was even possible.

(Have you ever had a month feel like a lifetime?)

Since then, some of us have nestled into our homes and tried to make the most of an unprecedented situation. For some of us “stay home, stay safe” is oxymoronic because home is anything but safe. Some of us don’t have a home to stay in. All of us have lost so much: precious time with loved ones, spring musicals and sports, jobs, holiday traditions, the joyful sounds of a playground full of children, access to food, routine, connection, peace of mind.

While this shared experience looks different for each of us, there is a strong sense of “we’re all in this together.” There is collective concern for and gratitude toward our neighbors. Hearts and rainbows have appeared in windows, on the sidewalk, and along hiking trails. Signs thanking essential workers have popped up along our streets. What used to be a generic greeting — “how are you?” — has taken on deeper meaning and people seem to both ask and answer with greater sincerity. And with hands may or may not have had rainbow-colored paint stains on them, people gave to Addison County Responds.

In just one month, 407 community members gave $181,299 to Addison County Responds. Thanks to this powerful unified response, UWAC was able to begin deploying emergency grants to nonprofit partners on the front lines and providing relief funds to individuals/families screened through our United@Work program before the end of March.

UWAC’s board and staff have relied heavily on the strong relationships we have with our partner agencies to look and listen for ways we can provide support (be it financial, in-kind, volunteer, advocacy or otherwise). We have made early investments where we believe we can have the greatest impact in flattening the curve in Addison County and anticipate that our funding list will look different in the months ahead as needs continue to shift and change.

•  Addison County Home Health & Hospice: $6,000 for personal protection equipment for their front line staff who are caring for 7 COVID-19 positive patients (they anticipate that number rising in the days to come as pending test results are received).

•  Age Well: $3,750 to support the increased need for Meals on Wheels in Addison County.

•  Addison Allies Network: $1,000 to support needs of migrant farm workers.

•  Addison County Community Trust: $1,000 for equipment that will allow ACCT staff to work remotely.

•  Addison County Parent/Child Center: $1,000 for immediate needs of Addison County families with children between the ages of 0-6.

•  Charter House Coalition: $1,000 to support conversion of the shelter to a COVID recovery center.

•  End of Life Services: $1,000 for technology upgrades necessary to continue grief groups.

•  HOPE: $1,000 for diapers, baby food, formula, etc. for distribution through their food shelf.

•  John Graham Housing & Services: $1,000 to support urgent services to homeless people at the five JGHS houses and numerous scattered sites during the COVID-19 pandemic.

•  New Community Project: $1,000 to support food access in Starksboro.

•  Pathways, VT: $1,000 to provide necessary supplies and food to the individuals and families in Pathways housing.

•  Open Door Clinic: $950 for “COVID care kits” (thermometers, masks, ibuprofen, etc.) for migrant farm workers.

There is more work to be done. We’ve been in uncharted territory for a month and we’ll remain there for an unknown amount of time. At UWAC we anticipate requests for Addison County Responds emergency funds to increase/change as our partners respond to the increasing/changing needs of the people they serve. I hope that, similar to “how are you,” the following generic statement will have new meaning: “We cannot do this without you.”

We’ve received many beautiful messages from Addison County Responds donors, but two stand out right now: “It feels good to be part of such a caring community,” and “Let’s give until we can shake hands again!”

For more information about how UWAC is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic or to join the movement by making a gift, visit unitedwayaddisoncounty.org/covid-19-response.

Helena Van Voorst

Executive Director, United Way of Addison County

Vergennes

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Addison County Independent