The network of organizations that helped the region recover in the wake of Hurricane Harvey officially re-activated to help the area pull through the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Golden Crescent Community Organizations Active in Disasters assembled its member agencies at a meeting Thursday at Son Valley Ranch to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic, said Glen Dry, chairman of the group.

The network of organizations includes the Victoria County United Way, the Victoria County Long-Term Recovery Group, American Red Cross, FEMA, Salvation Army, Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission and the Victoria City/County Office of Emergency Management, among many others.

The individual organizations always are actively addressing the needs of people, but during a declared national state of emergency, they also can come together to bring resources to the table for the community through the network, Dry said.

Currently, the group of agencies is navigating the uncharted territory of the coronavirus pandemic. Dry said the organization is tasked with various initiatives by city and county officials, and the relationship is mutually beneficial. All of the agencies share and coordinate resources whenever possible to help deal with the crisis.

Victoria County United Way is responsible for accepting donations, forming a committee to make grants and coordinating volunteers at one convenient location, said Brooke Garcia, executive director of the United Way.

“In general, the United Way network is very helpful during all of this by sharing steps they are taking and learning from one another,” Garcia said. “Obviously, this is unprecedented for any United Way, so we are all sharing. It’s a great thing that I expect will come out of this network in the end because we are all able to come together.”

With partners including the Community Action Committee, VCAM, Meals on Wheels and the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent, the United Way expects to continue closing the gaps with rental, utility and food assistance while also working to identify new gaps that may arise during the crisis.

“We are working with them (nonprofit partners) to assess what they need and how we can help,” said Jill Blucher, community engagement coordinator for the Victoria County United Way. “Especially with Meals on Wheels and the food bank, we are working to get volunteers who will continue delivering food, expanding those services and delivering in a different way.”

A link where nonprofits and individuals can apply for grants will go live on the Victoria County United Way website as soon as a few more details are ironed out, Garcia said. The United Way also will take referrals from partner agencies.

With a small emergency fund, donations from the community, funding pushed down from the United Way Worldwide and Texas United Way, and foundation and business support, the Victoria County United Way will help with these efforts, Blucher said. She expects that some foundations and businesses will get involved with financial support, and the United Way is beginning to issue formal requests locally.

Recruiting more volunteers also will help. Donations can be made and opportunities for volunteer service can be secured on the website, unitedwayvictoria.org or victoriatxoem.org.

“If somebody wants to volunteer, they can sign onto our website and use our volunteer management system,” Blucher said. “We will put them to work where they are most needed.”

On the website, a “Gaps” tab will allow front-line workers to submit gaps in service that they come across.

“We expect that gaps in service will arise,” Blucher said. “There may be an agency that provides food or rental assistance that identifies a need between there that we don’t know about, that we don’t have a mechanism to handle yet because we have never been in this situation before. We will address those issues on an individual, case-by-case basis. We are evolving in our plan.”

Through the 2-1-1 phone number, individuals can find resources for unmet needs. When calling, a new temporary option six that deals specifically with the coronavirus has been added to the menu, said Johanna Rohan, aging and community services coordinator for the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission.

The call volume has increased 91% since last week, she said. But the volume is manageable for the statewide network of call specialists. The website, 211texas.org, provides a link to the latest information about the coronavirus from the Texas Department of State Health Services as well as a search engine for finding resources.

“We want to mitigate any type of long wait times in the city and the region,” Rohan said. “I’m proud that everyone came together at the city and regional levels, nonprofits and the United Way, and really stepped up to help to support the community and the COAD, and put everything into motion so quickly.”

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Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate. 

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