The Chatham Health Alliance has been connecting hundreds of Chatham residents to resources since the COVID-19 pandemic’s early stages. In mid-March, however, the Alliance took its outreach to a …
Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Making high quality community journalism isn’t free — please consider supporting our journalism by subscribing to the News + Record today.
Unlimited Digital Access: $3.99 for 1 month, $39 for 1 year.
The Chatham Health Alliance has been connecting hundreds of Chatham residents to resources since the COVID-19 pandemic’s early stages. In mid-March, however, the Alliance took its outreach to a whole new level.
On March 16, members brought their Community Resource Hub into a Spanish-speaking neighborhood for the first time — and it all began with a new partnership and an enduring drive to help.
“The high was about 38 degrees, and it was raining, but we had seven volunteers who were so happy to be there,” said the Alliance’s vice chairperson, Sara Martin. She’s also the Prevention Programming Specialist for Insight Human Services, one of the Alliance’s member agencies.
Last spring, the Chatham Health Alliance — a group of local agencies and community members working together to improve Chatham’s health outcomes — initiated several projects in response to COVID-19 to connect people and communities with crucial resources. One was the Chatham Community Resource Hub, a mobile effort among various partner agencies to provide free resources to those in need across the county.
“When we were talking through what sort of things we thought the community needed, we were hearing that community agencies were having a hard time getting their resources out safely,” said Julie Wilkerson, the Alliance’s coordinator. “ … So that’s where we came up with the idea to drive-thru events and to make these hubs mobile. We’re actually going out into the community where the community lives.”
According to the Alliance’s website, the Hub has handed out more than 1,230 masks and provided resources for 225 families so far. Alliance partners have also given out free medical lock boxes, medication disposal kits and car seats.
They began last year by partnering with CORA — the Chatham Outreach Alliance — for monthly mobile markets in Siler City, where they served primarily Spanish-speaking residents. Since then, they’ve expanded to work with other agencies and various churches, including Cedar Grove UMC in Pittsboro.
“Then recently, when the health department was able to start giving out vaccines, we saw a need to do outreach to the community to get more of our community members equitably signed up for vaccine appointments,” Wilkerson said. “Those have been really amazing events that have actually on occasion turned into vaccine clinics.”
On March 16, the Alliance brought that outreach directly to Country Living Estates, a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Siler City — but that decision wasn’t based on weeks’ worth of planning, Martin told the News + Record. Instead, it was all rather “last-minute.”
Earlier in March, Martin had been in a meeting with Josh Maple, a representative for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, while he had been talking about the services the Shuttle provides. He also mentioned the Shuttle was looking to make new partnerships, which prompted Martin to reach out and see if the Resource Hub could partner with the Food Shuttle.
“He responded to me, and basically, he told me he was doing an event and he had time in Siler City,” she said. “He had two hours, and did I know of a place they could go? I was like, ‘Well, not right now, but I’ll figure it out.’”
She ultimately figured it out a few days later in a lunch meeting with Communities In Schools’ Maria Soto and Travis Patterson.
“I happened to mention it to them, and as soon as we were done with lunch, Maria was like, ‘Come on,’ and she drove me to Country Living Estates, through that neighborhood,” Martin said. “She introduced me to the property manager, and he said, ‘Absolutely! Bring the food truck, bring the Resource Hub here.’”
And just days later, that’s what they did.
In two hours, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle handed out 127 hot meals of chicken and vegetable quesadillas, rice and beans — all free — while the Hub and the Chatham health department worked together to sign up residents for vaccination appointments. By the end of the event, Martin said they’d signed up enough people “to impress the health department.”
“I think it was one of my favorite experiences, and it was a great group of people,” Martin said, smiling. “We just really worked well together, figured out what everyone was going to do, and then we got it done.”
CIS’ Maria Soto volunteered at the March 16 event as well. She said she, too, was happy to partner with the Resource Hub and to continue to help bridge information and resource gaps within minority communities.
“It is very rewarding to be able to get information out to families and for them to be so engaged,” she said, adding, “It is so important for us to build trust and to be able to bring information and services to those communities where they are at.”
Martin added that she was also impressed by how quickly the health department provided bilingual staff members.
“It was less than two weeks out, and I told the health department, ‘I’m sorry, I know this is last minute, but this is not going to work without Spanish speakers,’” she said, “and it was four hours later, and they came back and said, ‘We got four for you.’”
The Alliance returned to Country Living just a week later on March 24 — this time with the Hispanic Liaison — to schedule vaccine appointments for the mass vaccination clinic the health department held at St. Julia Catholic Church back on March 27. That day, Wilkerson said they scheduled 55 appointments — and all for Hispanic residents.
“Over the last two weeks through the outreach events we’ve done, including these hubs, they’ve had 400 people say they found out about getting signed up for the vaccine through those outreach events,” Wilkerson said. “We know that 30 people who got appointments specifically said the reason you know to call me is because of the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Resource Hub event, but that’s just people who offered up that information, so it was probably more.”
According to Martin, the Alliance plans to continue these events and bring them to different Spanish-speaking neighborhoods across Chatham County in partnership with CIS, the health department and the Food Shuttle.
“The Food Shuttle was really pleased with how many people turned out and they were the ones that said, ‘Let’s keep doing more of this,’ and gave me some more dates,” she said. “So that’s turning into a really fruitful partnership, I think.”
The next Resource Hub/Food Shuttle event will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 13 at Love’s Creek in Siler City, Martin said. They’ll once again be handing out free hot meals, educating residents about the COVID-19 vaccine and perhaps scheduling people for appointments.
“We would love to partner with the Food Shuttle for those events as much as we can because we know that food brings people out and we can give them the resources we have,” added Wilkerson. “ … We’ve been all around the county, and we’re looking to continue to locate everywhere we can.”
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.