Like many of the region’s frontline social service organizations, Peabody-based Citizens Inn is feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in many ways, including increased demand for services at Haven from Hunger, the organization’s food pantry and community meals program.

But while demand at Haven is growing, its pool of volunteers – many of them high-risk retirees who must now stay home to stay safe – is shrinking. To fill in the gaps and ensure the needs of clients are met during this time of crisis, Citizens Inn Executive Director Corey Jackson knew he needed a plan to expand his staff and get more boots on the ground.

But this is hiring in the time of COVID-19. And Jackson wanted to look beyond his own organization’s needs; he wanted to see if he could turn them into an opportunity, one that could help even more people suffering from the economic fallout of the pandemic. First, he reached out to the restaurants and small food service businesses that have supported Citizens Inn, many of which are now struggling to retain employees and stay afloat. Then at 9 a.m. on April 4, Jackson put out a call on Facebook: “Citizens Inn is looking to hire 10 folks who are laid off or furloughed from the restaurant industry to work at Haven from Hunger.” By that night, the post had been shared nearly 300 times. Six people have been hired so far.

“We believe this will be a win-win,” Jackson said. “We employ these folks while restaurants are closed and return them to the industry when it reopens. This also allows our high-risk retiree volunteers to feel good about staying home and not putting themselves at risk.”

This is just one example of the many cross-sector collaborations and creative problem solving happening all over Essex County right now. And it’s noteworthy because in times of crisis – when things are so fluid and full of persistent fires that must be put out – our work can feel uncomfortably reactive and isolating. This can make it difficult to innovate and widen our scope to see the bigger picture. But it is happening in all corners of the region.

On Cape Ann, the city of Gloucester, the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, nonprofit Action Inc. and local municipalities have come together to create the Cape Ann Emergency Relief Fund, which will help support hourly workers struggling with lost income in the wake of the coronavirus. More than $210,000 has already been raised.

On the North Shore, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, Beverly Mayor Mike Cahill and Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee – in conjunction with Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, North Shore Community Health, Lynn Community Health, the Northeast Homeland Security Regional Advisory Council and nonprofit LIfebridge – have joined forces to establish a temporary quarantine location for the region’s homeless population at Salem High School. This collaboration will help protect some of the most vulnerable people in our region.

In the Merrimack Valley, the business coalition formed in the wake of the Columbia Gas disaster – led by ECCF and the Lawrence Partnership and including dozens of area nonprofits, business and community leaders, state and municipal governments, funders and volunteers – is once again working together to help small businesses navigate a stabilization and recovery process that focuses on augmenting federal resources with critical local interventions.

All across the region, Essex County residents are coming to the aid of the small businesses and nonprofit organizations that have served our communities for decades and are now facing unprecedented hardships. Newburyport area residents have contributed nearly $50,000 to a GoFundMe campaign for the beloved Jabberwocky Bookshop. Two North Shore photographers – Jennifer Maguire and Tracey Westgate – have raised more than $11,000 for Acord Food Pantry in Hamilton by photographing quarantined families – from a social distance – for the Front Steps Project.

Larger area businesses are pivoting operations to take care of our communities and medical professionals. Athletic apparel company New Balance is manufacturing general use face masks in their Lawrence factory and is working to address the urgent demand for FDA-approved personal protective equipment for frontline medical staff. And Southwick Clothing in Haverhill, manufacturer of Brooks Brothers suits, will join the company’s New York and North Carolina factories in producing masks (up to 150,000 a day) and gowns.

These are just a few examples of the many collaborations and collectives that are focused on a common goal, which in these uncertain and unprecedented times is to take care of one other. We need to come together to make sure we all arrive on the other side of this pandemic as whole as possible so that we can work together to rebuild.

“A situation like this makes it so very clear how interdependent we are on each other,” said Sue Gabriel, executive director of Beverly Bootstraps, another social service organization on the front lines helping the most vulnerable among us.

And this is what we need to continue to keep in mind as we navigate our way through this crisis and plan for the future. We are all of us connected. Now is the time to proactively identify common goals, see the challenges, seek creative, collaborative solutions and take action. And with strong relationships, trusted partnerships and dependable systems – built in times of calm and relied upon in times of turbulence – we can weather any storm, now and in the future. We are the changemakers.

Stratton Lloyd is COO and vice president for community leadership at Essex County Community Foundation. Michelle Xiarhos Curran is the foundation’s communications writer. For information on how you can help Essex County Community Foundation support nonprofit organizations and others affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit eccf.org.

 

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