Girl putting a rainbow on her front door.

Stronger Together: Community Efforts Big and Small Define Coronavirus Response in Michigan

Troubled times often bring out the best in individuals, communities, organizations and businesses.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception. There are countless stories of pulling together, caring for neighbors and rapid deployments of aid and comfort large and small.

Try not to tear up watching this birthday parade for a 3-year-old with cystic fibrosis in West Michigan. Businesses and universities are donating their supplies of personal protective equipment to health care and emergency workers to keep them safe, while others are shifting production and even making homemade masks in support of the effort. Interactive neighborhood-level maps quickly sprang up to match requests for help and the volunteers who could supply it; the state of Michigan has also launched a website for people wanting to pitch in.

We wanted to take time to recognize some of the many ways Michiganders are being the light and hope in their communities.

“The people of Michigan have a long history of partnering to support our neighbors and communities,” said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan President and CEO Daniel J. Loepp. “Throughout this public health crisis, we’ve seen our state’s elected officials, health workers, small business owners, corporations, community leaders, non-profit organizations, teachers, schools and so many others band together to offer critical support and help each other stay safe. Michigan is a strong state, and we will emerge from this period by continuing this important work together.”

  • Showing up. Simply by going to work, health care workers, emergency responders and essential workers deserve our immense respect and gratitude, including our dedicated employees at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
  • Feeding the hungry. School districts mobilized quickly to provide food to students and their families, with help from organizations like the Superior Health Foundation. Organizations such as Kids’ Food Basket, the Greater Lansing Area Food Bank, the Father Fred Foundation and more statewide further stepped up their efforts with the help of community donations and volunteers to ensure already vulnerable populations don’t face this crisis hungry. “We take immense pride in our ability to meet whatever challenges arise, to assist other organizations in proactively responding to emergencies and helping people meet their basic needs, and to be a stabilizing force in times of crises,” wrote Kara Ross, president and CEO, Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, in a recent letter to the community. You can help by donating to these organizations and others like them near you.
  • Caring for vulnerable families. A COVID-19 Community Response Fund was established by United Way for Southeastern Michigan to make sure seniors and families living in poverty don’t fall through the cracks. “In our region, 44% of households struggle to meet their basic needs. That’s more than 681,000 households … For many of these families, one small setback can lead to a major financial hardship. A prolonged crisis like this can be catastrophic,” wrote Darienne Driver Hudson, president and CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, in a blog on the organization’s response. BCBSM was proud to contribute to this fund and other service organizations. Many other United Way chapters in Michigan have similar efforts in place, as do other social service agencies.
  • Watching out for the elderly. People continue to check in with older neighbors to see if they can help secure groceries and other supplies, while displaced schoolchildren and their families are building literacy skills and reaching out through letter-writing campaigns to nursing homes. Organizations such as the Area Agency on Aging 1-B quickly rallied to support seniors and caregivers in new ways.  “The Area Agency on Aging 1-B continues to be there to offer critical services to the seniors and people with disabilities who depend on us, but we’re looking for new ways to help, too,” explained Kathleen Yanik, communications manager, AAA 1-B. “Our agency has quickly pulled together a webpage of COVID-19 resources in the six-county region of southeast Michigan that we serve. It includes tips for preventing scams and listings of food pantries, groups that are delivering groceries, stores with special senior hours, and telephone support groups and other options to help seniors and caregivers beat isolation and feel connected. We are also working on ways that we can bring information from our Senior Health and Wellness classes and caregiver education classes to social platforms, like Facebook, to add a little online connection and activity for everyone.”
  • Mobilizing for mental health. Organizations around the state have stepped up to provide free mental health resources for people struggling with stress and anxiety. Be Nice – Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan developed a podcast, TRAILS developed a comprehensive guide for parents to address their children’s mental health and many gyms and fitness centers have found ways to offer free streaming workouts to help people engage in physical activity, a known stress reducer.
  • Taking care of customers. Grocery stores and retailers like Meijer and SpartanNash and their staff have worked diligently to keep stores clean and stocked. They’ve also adjusted their hours and added special times for seniors and people with weakened immune systems to shop so everyone can access fresh, healthy food. Many utility companies are suspending non-payment shutoffs for customers having trouble paying their bills. On the flip side, many customers of small businesses have purchased gift cards to support owners and staff until they can re-open their doors.
  • Shifting resources for the greater good. Amway, Dow and local distilleries shifted their manufacturing capabilities to provide hand sanitizer for hospitals and service organizations. In addition to donating generously to the Detroit community, Quicken Loans is pivoting to handle logistics and technology at a drive-thru testing site. Ford and General Motors are shifting production to make much-needed personal protective equipment to keep health care workers safe on the job, as is Fiat Chrysler Automotive.

This list isn’t comprehensive. There is simply too much good happening right now to capture it all. We invite you to share your personal experiences in the comments. Have you helped or been helped? It takes all of us. In whatever way you’re helping, we thank you.

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Photo credit: Daisy-Daisy

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