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The Power of Local Community


May 7, 2020

When COVID-19 first threatened Richland County and Columbia in early March, evidence from around the world showed one looming certainty: senior citizens in our community were at-risk. As the largest non-profit in the area whose sole mission to is serve seniors, we at Senior Resources felt called to respond to the public health and humanitarian crisis. We were ready to respond and so was our community.

Within days of the area’s first reported case, Columbia City Council and Richland County Council stood ready to respond to the needs of seniors. The leaders of these councils, Mayor Steve Benjamin with the city, and Chairman Paul Livingston and Vice-Chair Dahli Myers with the county, along with their council colleagues moved quickly and with focused deliberation. Soon plans developed to provide essential emergency meals to seniors, ensuring safety and social distancing in distribution and eliminating barriers that could prevent access to the most vulnerable.

The City of Columbia’s A Resilient Columbia: Economic Sustainability Plan, accompanied by Richland County’s COVID-19 Relief Program, is now providing more than 80,000 meals to senior citizens in need in our community. City Manager Teresa Wilson and County Administrator Leonardo Brown, along with essential personnel in both administrations moved swiftly to carry out the elected officials’ actions. Within days seniors who would otherwise be hungry or endangering their wellbeing in public spaces were able to sit safely at their dinner tables to enjoy a nutritious meal distributed at twelve drive-thru locations across the city and county.

The meals not only feed seniors, but they are keeping local food service workers employed. Each meal is made by a local small business, Southern Way Catering, who faced uncertainty after the virus cancelled all special events and weddings. Each meal gives its employees and suppliers a reason to stay open and provides the individuals relying on those jobs a way to care for their own families.

Following the lead of our local leaders, individuals and community partners quickly began an outpouring of support to help with the emergency senior nutrition program. Online gifts from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars began to come to the Senior Resources Emergency Relief Fund. Individuals, schools and churches dropped off pantry items to supplement the meals. Through Federal emergency funding, every Meals on Wheels senior received hand sanitizer made right here in the community at Nephron Pharmaceuticals. Corporate and philanthropic partners stepped forward. Soon what began as 80,000 meals has expanded to over 120,000 and counting.

Even as the economy begins to reopen, seniors remain at a high-risk for spread and dire health complications. As the crisis lingers the emergency needs of seniors will continue to be at never before seen levels. However, as the last two months have proven, our community is ready. We have the local leaders and the collective will to protect those who are most vulnerable. It is a shining example of the power of local community.

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