Cape Community Coalition helps Sussex deal with pandemic

The CCC4COVID initative has helped ease hunger among the under-served during the pandemic. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

LEWES — With COVID-19’s arrival, it began as a grassroots coalition rooted in community unity with a mission to connect organizations with the under-served in southern Delaware’s Cape region.

Comprised of city officials, chambers of commerce, faith communities, educators, healthcare providers, public libraries and nonprofit organizations, Cape Community Coordination for COVID-19 Coalition’s primary aim is to connect the area’s nonprofit, faith, civic, business and social service aspects to effectively communicate and coordinate resources during the pandemic crisis.

“What has been amazing and positive has been by joining together across different sectors we have been able to sort of bust through silos that normally would be in the way, where we would be worrying about whose turf is that,” said Jen Mason, the facilitating convener of CCC4COVID.

Emergency food distribution, housing, utilities, medical needs, senior isolation and broadband availability are among the focus areas of CCC4COVID partners.

Through late August, response to the CCC4COVID has been so overwhelming its tentacles are extending beyond the boundary of the Cape Henlopen School District.

The efforts play into the resilient community work of coalition member Danielle Swallow, a coastal hazards specialist with the University of Delaware. She is part of Delaware Sea Grant, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and university-based program that connects science to policies and decisions that support sustainable communities and resilient communities.

“Community resilience refers to the ability of a community to anticipate extreme events and be able to weather those events and rebound more quickly,” said Ms. Swallow. “When you have social needs, then they are going to be more vulnerable to impacts from the extreme event like a tornado, or a tropical storm like Isaias, or to COVID. So the more that we shore up the social services and support systems for our population the better they will be able to weather these events.

“CCC4COVID came into being as a response group, a grassroots coalition for COVID,” Ms. Swallow said. “The coalition has really blossomed. There are 70 members. We have some good successes under our belt.”

The name of the game is communication and collaboration. The coalition website is; its Facebook site is

Planting the seeds

The idea for the CCC4COVID initiative was planted shortly after Ms. Mason shut down her Lewes businesses — Biblion and The Vintage Underground — due to the pandemic.

“I shut down my businesses … which was like cutting off a limb, because I love what I do so much,” she said. “The first day, I was like, “OK, what am I going to do?’ I live in a tiny neighborhood in Lewes. We don’t have a neighborhood association. How are we going to reach each other if we need anything?’ So I went around and knocked on everybody’s door and took down contact information. We started a neighborhood email tree so we could stay in contact, which has been super helpful.”
With that done, it was “Now what I am going to do?’ I work with all these organizations locally but a lot of them don’t have ties across.”

The coalition for the Cape region during the coronavirus crisis came to mind.

“I started reaching out. We should really be connected,” said Ms. Mason. “It was fun. It was enjoyable.”

Connecting partners

“One of the key objectives is to connect partners so that they can identify who is working on what issues,” said Patti Drago, whose CCC4COVID role includes data research, topic papers, social media and internal communications. “So, emergency food distribution, housing, or broadband, the goal is to assist them in collaborating more effectively so that effort is not duplicated. Knowing that everywhere we turn in the world resources are limited, we can take what is limited and have them extend as far as they can possibly go.”

“We are able to function together and collaborate and start to try to be much more practical in terms of solving immediate issues,” said Ms. Mason. “By being able to collaborate with each other … we can focus our energy on other things.”

First State Community Action Agency, a CCC4COVID partner, has assisted in coronavirus testing to help reach vulnerable populations in the community.

First State Community Action Agency, among the coalition’s social/food services partners, has been active in its traditional role as well as COVID testing.

“At First State, our major role is to continue to work in those hard to reach communities and provide them with education, outreach, but also connect them with other partners that is part of this group,” said FSCCA executive director Bernice Edwards. “We have partnered with the COVID group to provide testing. We have partnered with Beebe. We partnered with DEMA, with our facility at Georgetown, to provide a spot for people to get tested. We also partnered with La Esperanza for a testing site. We’ve been actively involved with the coalition since their inception.”

People facing emergency housing and rent issues were funneled through FSCAA and Community Resource Center.

“The (Delaware) housing authority was really struggling so if we got people directly to CRC or First State, then they were able to start to triage and then could also work on wraparound services for these families,” said Ms. Mason.

Detailed meeting minutes compiled by coalition member Ruth Cohen are sent to the CCC4COVID partnership. Membership has steadily grown.

“We’ve gotten a lot more state agencies, federal agencies, more folks tapping into the partnership,” Ms. Mason said.

On the map

Ms. Drago’s first step is to make sure the partners understand the landscape.

“Who is doing what? What is the information? Where are the underserved populations?” Ms. Drago said. “I pull all this together in landscape reports. They really just set the table for making sure everyone is on the same page.”

The coalition’s catch phrase is: “We evolve as we go …”

Emergency food distribution is one example. She created a user friendly online map. “Volunteers called the entire county to identify emergency pantries … we map them out,” said Ms. Drago.

She developed reference sheets with location information that were translated into Spanish and Haitian and put out with grocery boxes. Landscape reports also focused on housing, mainly on homeless, and the broadband internet access issue.

“Access to the internet seems to be critical,” Ms. Drago said. “The purpose of my landscape reports is to make sure people understand the issues, what is working and what is not working, but also who is doing what?”

Feeding the need

CCC4COVID members note the efforts of the Harry K Foundation, Schell Brothers and others in combating hunger.

Through a huge donation effort, estimates upward of $300,000 worth of food has been distributed through the coalition during the pandemic. They helped feed school children from low-income/impoverished families when the schools shut down in mid-March.
The Historic Lewes Farmers Market started offering patrons opportunities to buy farm-fresh food for donation to Epworth United Methodist Church for distribution on Sunday.

First State Community Action, which receives funding support from the United Way and Delaware Community Foundation, has partnered with the Harry K Foundation for distribution to its senior program.

Present and future

Current success of CCC4COVID may be a foundation for a permanent initiative.

Ms. Swallow said she recently conducted a “survey of our membership to see if they would be interested in keeping this group around long-term. And 84 percent said ‘yes, absolutely,’ and the other 16 percent said ‘maybe.’ There was zero that said no.

“By bringing together different groups it has formed a network of neighbors helping neighbors, organizations coordinating with organizations.”

Ms. Swallow said CCC4COVID has gotten the attention of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We think it will be an important component of the state’s emergency response framework because emergency response is often federal and state directed but locally executed,” said Ms. Swallow. “But if you don’t have networks on the ground and support services in place you can’t execute.

“This group is trying to connect more dots and build more support services. That is why FEMA and DEMA are interested because this coalition can be one of those on-the-ground resources that state and federal partners tap into when we have emergencies.”

Bigger picture

Ms. Mason says something initially created to help the Cape region “respond to disasters has sort of ended up helping to create a greater sense of resilience overall.”

One of the primary focuses now is “just raising the alarm at a broader level for what Sussex County, especially western Sussex County, needs in terms of support.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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