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Humanity and Equity in the Face of Crisis

03.20.2020

This definitely isn’t the first article you’re reading about organizations adjusting to our new reality with COVID-19. My inbox (and my heart and mind) have been inundated with articles, commentaries, graphics, videos, etc. The stories of kindness warm my heart, while the statements from companies that are expecting “business as usual” worry me. For us at Health Leads, this pandemic has rapidly exposed the deep roots of racial inequity which we have all known exist, and we’re starting to trip over them in new ways.

Many of us know that our zip code influences our life expectancy more than any other factor – and one significant and unspoken driver of those differences is racism. With a health crisis of this magnitude, that disparity becomes pronounced in new ways and with shocking clarity: While the elderly are at the highest risk of death from this disease, that threshold declines to 55 years for those with a lower socioeconomic status – which include more people of color.

We clearly need to rethink the support systems in this country to prevent this from happening again. In the meantime, we have to focus our response to this public health crisis on well-being and dignity for those who need it most.

I’m helping my son’s school coordinate food and childcare services for families who have requested assistance. Despite the incredible efforts of the school district and news (emails, robocalls, tweets, website creation, press conferences, etc), many of the families that need support are not getting the information they need. For me, this raises the question: How can anyone focus on the nearest meal distribution when they are consumed with:

  • Keeping children safe – do you want to send your child to the nearest daycare center while you work? It’s a difficult decision to make. And for some, that decision has now been made for them.
  • An employer needing you to work onsite, but faced with the impossible decision of quitting or potentially exposing your child when you take them to childcare or returning from work as a potential carrier of the virus.
  • A sharper decline of food in the cabinets – the second half of the month is often difficult for families receiving SNAP benefits. Children eating breakfast and lunch at home now greatly increases that pressure.

Here’s what you can do to support those that may not have the financial security at this time:

    • Don’t hoard groceries when you go shopping. If we consume at a normal rate, we won’t have empty shelves. Even cities that have gone on lockdown are still able to purchase groceries. And remember to check for WIC signs to ensure you’re leaving items those with restricted dollars can purchase.
    • Check-in with your neighbors, school principal, local food pantries and offer support. Food banks need your help.
    • Homeless shelters depend on volunteers to keep the operations going. Research your local organizations to see what they need for support at this time.
    • If your finances have not changed, keep paying your childcare provider, dog-walker or domestic worker, so they can survive through this, too.

As a clinical social worker and public health practitioner, I recognize that at times like these, it may be difficult to focus on others when you’re trying to make it through your own chaotic schedule. For me, getting time to focus on others is what helps me keep perspective, make connections with others (virtually) and keep in mind that humanity is beautiful when we all come together to support one another.

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