Addressing service gaps through coordination

In July 2020, CDP’s Midwest Early Recovery Fund awarded a grant to the United Way of the Midlands (UWM) for a coordinator for community response and a bilingual information and referral specialist for the 211 Helpline. The helpline serves the state of Nebraska, nine counties in southwest Iowa and all of Iowa overnight. Both roles were critical in ensuring equitable access to resources throughout the first two years of the pandemic.

After two years of shifts and challenges, the grant from CDP is wrapping up. Still, the work of ensuring equitable access to resources, coordination of response across agencies and planning for future community shocks continues. The most significant needs at the beginning of the pandemic were the same as in most disasters and continue today: housing, transportation, food and child care. While these needs are constant stressors for families across the region, the pandemic shifted how UWM thinks about and responds to service gaps.

“The pandemic shined a light on gaps in services,” said Tiffany Howard, UWM’s manager of community impact and analytics.

One service gap, noted early on in the pandemic, was the supply of diapers. While some individual agencies across the state assisted with supplying diapers to families in need, there was not a coordinated effort to ensure that diapers were available when needed statewide.

Now, due in part to the work and funding of UWM, there is a Nebraska diaper bank. Another service gap was the wait times for Spanish speakers calling the 211 Helpline for assistance. With additional Spanish speakers, calls were answered faster and more efficiently.

The pandemic also highlighted gaps in support for nonprofit partners and an internal need at UWM for continuity of operations plans. As nonprofits in the community did more with fewer resources, UWM stepped in to assist in providing coordination meetings to discuss where services were duplicative and how organizations could support each other and stretch limited resources farther.

UWM also looked at ways to financially assist employees of nonprofits who experienced need while serving others. Internal reflection led to the development of a continuity of operations plan for UWM. Because of this plan, UWM is more resilient and will be better able to continue its critical community work when the next disaster occurs.

As recovery from the pandemic continues, organizations like UWM continue to support community needs, carrying out their missions with tenacity, flexibility and courage. CDP’s Midwest Early Recovery Fund is proud to support this community lead work and be a part of building this organization’s capacity to address needs and impact its community.