In just two short weeks, day-to-day operations have undergone drastic changes across the United States. COVID-19 has brought much of society to a reluctant halt, and most organizations—Cairn University included—have been forced to make important alterations to their plans.
Among many of society’s most vulnerable, the new stay-at-home and social distancing measures brought on by COVID-19 have created particular challenges. Dr. Coz Crosscombe, director of Cairn’s Center for Urban Engagement, explains how the virus has affected work in Philadelphia communities he’s involved in: “We still have people in need of all kinds of services, but COVID-19 has brought huge changes.” Food banks, for example, are facing challenges, as “people still need food, but donations are limited and there are very few volunteers. Some are even shutting down.”
In response to these challenges, Cairn Social Work alumni Katie Grindle ’19 and Lizzie Walker ’18 have been hard at work. They and the organizations they work for have begun collaborative efforts in many underserved Philadelphia communities.
Last week when YoungLife put their services on hold, Katie and the YoungLife Philadelphia team feared they may be out of a job for the time being. That is, until Katie’s boss, Nes Espinosa, set into motion Operation Neighborcare Philly.
Operation Neighborcare Philly has developed over the last week as an impromptu virtual hub for local pastors and ministry/community leaders to stay up to date on COVID-19 response. Pooling their resources, the approximately 50 churches and organizations involved are rapidly finding new ways to coordinate their efforts to serve people in need during this health crisis. “This way we can work together and be efficient in how we do it,” Katie said, who has taken on many of the administrative tasks involved in this effort.
In the Hunting Park and Kensington communities, the Esperanza Health Center has joined in on this collective effort. Lizzie works in Esperanza’s Department for Community Programming, and after pausing all community activities, she and her team had to reconsider how to serve their community during this time. They quickly decided to provide food for a large group of seniors that meets regularly in their building. “Knowing our seniors over the past few years, we were able to consider who has family support, who lives alone, things like that,” Lizzie explained. “Since public transportation and access to grocery stores have become difficult, we thought this would be a good place to start.”
This began their process of partnering with other groups in Philadelphia—who are also partners in Operation Neighborcare—and together they were able to supply and distribute 50 bags of food in a matter of days. “Our team got to see some of our seniors and touch base with them in a socially distant, face-to-face way,” Lizzie said. “We’re now looking at how to keep this kind of service going.” With the food distribution system developing, they are considering how to equip other community organizations in Operation Neighborcare to do the same.
Dr. Coz Crosscombe speaks highly of the diligent leaders in his community. Recognizing the leadership of his close friend Nes Espinosa, he explained that “these Cairn alumni are playing a pivotal role in these efforts.” City and state government officials have even taken notice of Operation Neighborcare Philly, he said, as they have joined in on virtual meetings and expressed their encouragement at the work being done.
Katie and Lizzie made it clear that communication with other churches and organizations in North Philadelphia has always been constant. During this crisis, it has only increased. “We’re working with them” and “They are helping us develop this service” have become the mantras of COVID-19 response for these churches, ministries, organizations, and governmental agencies. As Lizzie puts it, “We can all work together on what God is already doing through his people in North Philly.”