A Beacon of Light in a
In a year rocked by an unprecedented social, economic, and health crisis, 2020 presented enormous challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic upended every facet of our daily lives and shined a spotlight on deep-rooted inequities in our society. In response, the Foundation mobilized quickly to support and coordinate efforts across Missouri. Our focus was twofold: responding to the immediate crisis and ensuring equity was central in long-term reforms. Leveraging specific changemaking tools, we launched a series of activities to protect individuals and communities throughout the state.
Given the critical nature of the pandemic, a portion of our early COVID-19 work was focused on making sure Missourians’ basic needs were met. People were losing their jobs and for many, their health care along with it. No one was sure how long this would last, and added stressors were worsening mental health outcomes. With students out of school, many were left without meals they relied on each day, and millions of newly unemployed Americans were struggling to feed their families.
To ensure people had the food and health care they needed, we accelerated our efforts. By early spring, a quick infusion of resources, along with the formation of the Regional Response Team, helped stabilize health and social safety net programs. Through our relationships with local chambers of commerce, food banks were able to hire workers who had been temporarily laid off to meet the growing demand for food assistance. We also supported federally qualified health centers and community mental health centers so that services could continue without interruption.
Our long-standing partnerships with community foundations and United Ways across the state made it possible for us to move swiftly and assist the nonprofit sector as it faced a significant increase in client requests. With close ties to their residents, organizations were better able to direct funds based on their communities’ most urgent needs.
Missourians in all parts of the state were experiencing the pandemic in different ways, hearing varied versions of what was needed to keep themselves healthy. We recognized that providing access to accurate information from trusted messengers was imperative for the safety of our communities. When the pandemic started, misinformation circulated on a variety of outlets, with coronavirus reports coming from sources that were not reputable or rooted in science. Less than a week after the national state of emergency was declared, the Foundation shared a mini toolkit of COVID messages with local public health agencies to help educate the public on what we knew at the time.
As we continued to have conversations and assess statewide concerns around strategic communications, the call for factual and timely audience-specific messaging was apparent. Centered on equity, two campaigns — One for All Missouri and PrepareSTL — were created. Both have been vital to communities throughout Missouri, providing guidance, information, and resources.
Additionally, the pandemic provided us an opportunity to strengthen policies and work toward solutions that better support overall health. Like most health crises, COVID exposed long-established inequities and persistent problems that have yet to be solved. Communities most impacted by the pandemic struggled to navigate the unexpectedly changing landscape of everything from telehealth to paid leave to housing. Through legislation and executive orders, state and federal government drove decisive action as ingrained obstacles were knocked down to adapt to our new reality. Sweeping changes that previously seemed impossible to make, such as relaxed regulations and enhanced safety net provisions, suddenly became feasible.
Many of these same policies that were implemented to protect population health during a pandemic are also needed if we are to truly forge ahead. Amid the uncertainty, we know that for many, there is no going back to “normal.” But in some respects, we shouldn’t want to; it wasn’t working for all of us. We are now challenged to redefine the scope of our collective actions and ensure our efforts create a future where everyone can flourish.