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  • Taylor Dibbert

On Reaching Out, Reopening and Rising to the Coronavirus Challenge

The coronavirus crisis continues. The virus is still working its way through our community. People are still getting sick and some are dying. Irrespective of how Maryland’s phased reopening progresses, COVID-19 and its repercussions will remain prominent issues for the foreseeable future.

In that context, CHEER’s continued engagement with community members in the Takoma Park and Long Branch areas is vital. Building upon previous calls and outreach during this difficult time, in May the CHEER team reached out to 49 community members who participate in CHEER programs. The May calls were follow-ups to ones made in late March and early April. And CHEER is out with a new report which provides an overview of the findings.

During the calls, CHEER staff asked five questions:

  • How are you doing?

  • How did the service or referral provided earlier go for you?

  • Are you utilizing a new resource or service?

  • What are your most important current needs?

  • Have you been able to pay your rent, or will you need help paying rent in the future?

Let’s get into some specifics.

Encouragingly, in response to the question about how they were doing, 76% of respondents provided a positive response. As the report makes clear, “[t]his is an improvement over the responses received in the first check in calls over a month ago, when 43% provided a negative response.”

Reponses to other questions are more complicated (and concerning). For example, only 31% of respondents said they are using referrals – including to food distributions, food stamps and unemployment – that CHEER had made.

37% of respondents are using new resources, principally food distribution sources.

In terms of current needs, the need for food featured most prominently in the survey results. 49% of respondents acknowledge their need for food. Employment is the next biggest need, with 27% of respondents mentioning that.

And, while 91% of respondents could pay their rent, “33% said they believed they were going to need help to pay their rent in the future.”

Enku Taye, a Community Outreach Specialist at CHEER, interviewed several respondents. She tells me that the Maple Avenue immigrant community is searching for any governmental or nongovernmental benefits. “Most people are pleased to take produce boxes, and gift cards,” she notes.

Taye is the founder and leader of the Maple Tree Group, a community organization comprised of Maple Avenue residents. (Her position and work at CHEER made the establishment of the group possible.)

Vanesa Pinto, CHEER’s Community Programs Director of Long Branch Education, interviewed respondents as well. She reminds me that members of the immigrant community haven’t only had to deal with coronavirus concerns in recent times. “Discrimination, racism, indifference are in a way similarly dangerous and deadly,” she says.

“Something that I can assure, it is how thankful community members are about all the help received in Montgomery County,” Pinto tells me.

Montgomery County’s Phase I reopening has begun. Consequently, there may be a growing sense that the worst of COVID-19 is behind us, or that the impact of the crisis, while significant, will slowly start to wane. Unfortunately, that may not be true. Numerous residents in the Takoma Park and Long Branch areas are poised to face an extremely challenging and stressful 2020.

Takoma Park is known for having a unique identity – where activism, empathy and forward-thinking values have long had a home. It’s a special place where people are able to think, live and act both locally and globally. The heart of responsible global citizenship includes a deep appreciation for one’s local community, its history and why it all matters.

There’s plenty of work left to do. And, quite frankly, Takoma Park is well-positioned – from capacity to culture to resources – to face the COVID-19 challenge head on. In the coming weeks and months, we’re going to learn a lot about our community, our neighbors and ourselves.

Let’s work together and rise to this challenge.

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