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How a grassroots action group is organizing to meet community needs

Sewing face masks, donating blood and planting gardens

(Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(Liz Martin/The Gazette)

As director of Corridor Community Action Network (CCAN), I have been networking with local organizations and citizens since August. While the Corridor has long been home to incredible people doing amazing things, I am now seeing neighbors pull together in ways and on scales that I haven’t previously witnessed. People in our region are experiencing the biggest crisis of their lives yet still stepping up to help others. Facilitating such mutual aid and community improvement is what CCAN is all about.

Through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, CCAN provides a place to learn about activism and giving opportunities in the Corridor, including organizational meetings, protests, letter/phone campaigns, fundraisers, volunteer opportunities, blood drives and animal adoption events. We also facilitate communication among various organizations via monthly meetings where attendees share plans and needs for the month ahead.

In the face of COVID-19, we thought about our upcoming gatherings, the convention we’d begun planning, the relationships we’d recently established. The prospect of canceling our events and losing our momentum was unthinkable. Then we thought about the volunteers and community members who attend the events we host and share. We realized that only one thing was important: keeping each other, our coalition, and our neighbors safe. We needed to make sure they were protected and informed during the crisis. It became clear that our only priority was to protect our community. To that end, we have adapted by eliminating gatherings, increasing postings of virtual events and educational opportunities and focusing on helping individuals, food security programs, and essential workers.

One of the best features of CCAN’s online presence is our daily action post, a list of 6 to 10 things individuals can do that day to help our community. Recently, these suggestions have included meeting the needs of neighbors, sewing face masks and surgeon’s caps for health care facilities, donating blood by low-risk and healthy people, signing online petitions, doing political advocacy, supporting organizations that meet basic needs and serve our most vulnerable populations, watching local meetings and town halls online, and contributing labor or materials to a community garden (while abiding by social distancing recommendations).

Because COVID-19’s economic effects will be long-lasting, we have created a new garden project. Volunteers and donors are establishing gardens in eight plots at two locations in Iowa City. Contributors will give what they can and take what they need. The surplus will be donated to local organizations that help feed the community.

Another online CCAN service is our weekly Wishlist Wednesday post, in which we share items that community groups need and donation procedures. Since many are experiencing hardship at this time, we are including some individual community member needs as well. We also added a COVID-19/coronavirus information thread to the top of our Facebook page and group, in which we have organized important information about the virus and national, state, county, city and school district information.

Through CCAN, our members’ responses and daily research about other community groups, I am seeing people rise to the challenges this crisis presents, and it has instilled hope in me. I’m more confident in our ability to not only survive this crisis, but also work together to build a better community and world. Corridor Community Action Network is dedicated to being on the front lines of that change. Don’t you want to be a part of it?

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Mandi Nichols is director of Corridor Community Action Network. Find CCAN at https://www.facebook.com/CorridorCAN/, https://twitter.com/corridorcan and https://www.instagram.com/corridorcommunityactionnetwork/.

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