Community Care During COVID: Social Connectedness in New Orleans
As we face down coronavirus, The Humana Foundation’s partners are hard at work, supporting the health of their communities. Organizations receiving Strategic Community Investment Program (SCIP) or Community Partner Program (CPP) funding are pivoting, diverting their resources and energy to where they are most needed. Here’s how two of the Foundation’s SCIP partners – Kingsley House and Growing Local Food Collaborative – are shifting their work during the pandemic.
To slow the spread of COVID-19, Louisiana issued a stay-at-home order for its residents, closing many non-essential businesses. While those measures are critical in our fight against the virus, quarantine and social isolation put a strain on the most vulnerable. Those who struggled with food or financial security or feelings of isolation before the pandemic now find themselves facing even greater challenges.
What we are going through as a nation and as local communities is indeed difficult, but it does offer us the opportunity to discover how we can be the best versions of ourselves and rally together around a shared cause. While this may seem like a dark time, The Humana Foundation is optimistic, looking for positive moments, new and meaningful examples of social connection, and ways to work with partners to enact permanent change for those people and communities most strongly feeling the effects of COVID-19. Our new reality demands changes to the ways we interact with each other and carry out The Humana Foundation’s mission.
The Foundation’s partners’ work in New Orleans showcases the importance of a strong focus on well-being and social connectedness. Before the pandemic, Growing Local Food Collaborative and Kingsley House were hard at work, closing systematic gaps in food security, education and employment. To navigate through COVID-19, these organizations are making changes to their programing, ensuring people feel connected to each other and have a sense of belonging, even during social distancing measures.
One of the ways the Growing Local Food Collaborative supports food security in New Orleans is by buying left over produce from farmers market at a reduced price, allowing them to keep food box prices low. But, social distancing is presenting a food box delivery challenge. Previously, the organization would organize a drop off point for multiple boxes. Instead, they are finding ways to work with community partners to deliver food boxes directly to individual homes. This is remarkably important as the demand for food ramps up.
In addition to supporting with food security needs, the collaborative is also working to strengthen the holistic food economy, working together but apart. They are shifting their educational resources to online classes and webinars, continuing to help those who want to start of grow a business, especially women and people of color. The move to online education helps farmers get the support
Kingsley House suspended all in-person programming on March 16, but that has not stopped them from reaching out to program participants. Staff called almost 1,000 families in late March, gathering information on their needs, sharing community resources and ways to cope, and provided productive at-home activities for children, families, adults and seniors. They are also creating and delivering boxes of food, personal items and necessities for the seniors, adults and veterans participating in the Kingsley Adult Day Care program.
Keith Liederman, CEO of Kingsley House, shared this is early April about his organization’s work:
“Yes, we must exercise social distancing, but we must always practice social connecting.” This was a much-needed reminder to me that during this confusing, frightening and just plain frustrating time, we must find creative and meaningful ways of staying socially connected to each other, our families, friends, our participants, fellow staff, board members and community partners.
It wasn’t until I was actually physically together with our KH team that I fully realized the tremendous void that this crisis has caused in my life, in all of our lives. And, as if that wasn’t enough, seeing our program participants when delivering the boxes of needed items to their homes, even while maintaining our social distancing from one another, hammered this home in a way I haven’t felt since coming back to New Orleans after Katrina.
While out delivering those boxes, Keith was able to catch with Ms. Dorothy, a 104-year-old woman he met on his first day of work with Kingsley House in 1994. Ms. Dorothy is struggling with feelings of social isolation. Her daughter reports she is depressed and misses seeing her Kingsley House friends. She is finding comfort in daily phone calls with Kingsley House staff and Ms. Virginia, one of her Kingsley House friends. Here is how Keith ended his visit with Ms. Dorothy:
I wanted so much to go in the house and hold her hand and just sit with her and reassure her that everything will be okay. I again told her that I loved her, that all of us love her and how important she is to all of us. When I got in my car, I closed my eyes tight, clenched my fists as hard as I could and prayed to all of the powers in the universe that I would see her again.
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we live, work and play. By changing our “being-in-the-world,” we also have to change our “doing-in-the-world” and the ways we support each other. The Humana Foundation applauds our partners for their continued work to support the health of communities across the country. Their work matters more now than ever before.
Do you want to help New Orleans fight back against social isolation and increase food security? Consider making a donation to Kingsley House and help them actively engage with families during the COVID-19 health crisis. You can also make a donation to Growing Local Food Collaborative via the Recirculating Farms Coalition and help support farms and farmers right now.
If you are a Humana employee and want to make a charitable donation or volunteer to aid COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts, please visit Humana Together, Humana’s internal resource for finding and tracking volunteer and giving opportunities. And, if you have volunteer opportunities related to COVID-19 to share with Humana employees, please create a profile with Benevity, the platform that powers Humana Together.