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Facing COVID-19 – Farmville Cares offers help and hope

Story and photos by Marge Swayne

Spring arrived in Farmville this year with an unwelcome visitor — COVID-19.

Within days Farmville’s downtown district went from bustling streets blooming with the new flowers, to an eerie silence with few vehicles and even fewer passersby on the street.

Behind the scenes it was a different story. Local organizations and nonprofits were mobilizing to help the community take on the reality of a pandemic. Farmville Cares, a resource website with numerous COVID-19 resources for residents of Farmville and surrounding communities, was launched at the end of March.

THE 10-PERSON RULE

By mid-March, Sunday afternoon in Farmville had taken on a surreal look. Observing the 10-customer rule, Charley’s Waterfront Café, Hotel Weyanoke and North Street Press Club had either closed or were doing takeout. The only signs of life on Main Street was at Walkers Diner where two Longwood University students and a pit bull puppy waited for lunch.

“I’m going to miss the students,” co-owner Steve Graham said. “Students were told to leave campus by tomorrow.”

According to Graham, the previous week had been business almost as usual. How long that would be the case remained to be seen.

Uptown Coffee Café down the block was open but not very busy. On the sidewalk a chalkboard that usually promoted the special of the day offered tips on supporting small businesses: order online, use card or Apple Pay, buy gift cards, support social media, wash hands, be kind.

It was that kind of day in Farmville’s new normal — springtime and sunshine overshadowed by the unknown.

FARMVILLE CARES

The order to close public and private schools for the remainder of the academic year brought new concerns.

How would parents fortunate enough to still have a job find childcare? What about families suddenly without jobs? How would they buy groceries or pay for rent and utilities?

To answer those concerns, Farmville’s non-profit organizations decided to get together by teleconference. Initiated by Letterpress Communications, the digital meeting was held to find practical ways these agencies could help the community.

Attending the teleconference were representatives from Piedmont Senior Resources, FACES, Habitat for Humanity, Prince Edward Social Services, the Interfaith Collective, Southside Family YMCA, Pregnancy Support Center of Southside Virginia, United Way and several Farmville-area churches.

Finding ways to connect community members in need with agencies or organizations that could provide help was the immediate concern.

An hour-long discussion led to consensus: a webpage was needed to centralize local efforts. Farmville Cares, a COVID-19 recourse website, was launched by the Letterpress Communications team in just 48 hours. The new site would offer hands-on help to community members with specific material needs.

“We wanted to use technology and the good work of existing community organizations to create solutions for those who suddenly found themselves in need,” Letterpress Principal Ilsa Loeser said. “Now more than ever, communication is critical to connect available resources to specific needs.”

STEPS HOTLINE

According to STEPS President/CEO Sharon Harrup, a COVID-19 resource and referral hotline has been established. The hotline, manned and active 24 hours a day, will address housing and energy needs.

“Those who call will reach a member of the STEPS staff who will guide them to the most accessible resource,” Harrup said.

The STEPS hotline is (877) 630-6458.

FACES/FACES Backpack program

Farmville Area Community Emergency Services (FACES), which provides emergency and supplementary food to qualified residents of Prince Edward County and parts of Cumberland, Nottoway and Charlotte counties, will continue to distribute food on Saturdays at its Commerce Street location.

“To keep our volunteers and clients safe during the COVID-19 crisis we have switched to a drive-thru method,” FACES President Ellery Sedgwick explained. “Consequently, we need more volunteers on Thursdays from 3:30-5 p.m. and Saturdays from 7:30-10:30 a.m.”

The Backpack Program, also managed by FACES, provides weekend food supplies for elementary and middle school students, a service especially needed now that schools are closed. Backpacks are currently available during FACES regular Saturday distributions and at designated feeding locations established by Prince Edward schools.

“Our counselors have been amazing,” FACES board member Joanne Baker said about elementary school counselors assisting with backpack distribution. “They’ve called students at home to make sure they’re getting their backpacks and are even delivering them to students without transportation.”

For information on FACES or the Backpack Program call (434) 392- 3588.

FACES AND PSR JOIN FORCES

During the teleconference, FACES President Ellery Sedgwick and Piedmont Senior Resources (PSR) Executive Director Justine Young agreed to coordinate efforts to assist PSR clients.

PSR currently delivers five frozen meals each week to homebound seniors in Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties. FACES agreed to provide fresh produce and meat purchased from the food bank in Richmond for PSR deliveries twice a month.

PSR clients, Young noted, are among the most vulnerable in the community.

“All of PSR’s services are geared toward helping those who’ve worked hard all their lives and now need a little help,” Young explained. “Having this addition to their food supply will make a significant difference.”

PEER-TO-PEER NETWORK

The Interfaith Collective, represented by Patsy Watson, set up a network of volunteers to be matched one-on-one — or peer-to-peer — with individuals in need of specific assistance. Aimed at older residents or those unable to leave home, this assistance might include delivering groceries or prescriptions, providing rides to and from a doctor’s appointment, or a daily call or text to the homebound.

“Patsy Watson and her group of volunteers launched the Peer-to-Peer Network in less than three days,” Loeser said.

By the first week in April, volunteers were working with 95 residents requesting help. A mask-making tutorial was also scheduled to help volunteers provide much-needed face protection in the coming days.

Manned by volunteers from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the peer-to-peer hotline number is (434) 414-1188.

FARMVILLE AREA MASKS (FAM)

Local efforts to meet a growing need for protective facemasks emerged and has continued to grow. Ginger Davis and Toni Puckett joined forces March 24 to launch the Farmville Area Masks (FAM) Facebook page that serves as a connection point between local seamstresses and healthcare providers or others in the community in need of protective masks.

By the first week in April, page membership had grown to 313, and countless masks had been delivered across the Farmville area and beyond.

COMMUNITY RESPONSE

“Thanks so much to everyone who is making masks!” PSR Executive Director Justine Young commented on the FAM page. “The team at PSR was so thrilled today to receive some. It truly brightened the day. It really does take a village — everyone helping makes things so much better.”

Centra Southside Community Hospital Community Engagement and Relations Manager Kerry Mossler echoed that sentiment.

“The response from the community has been amazing,” Mossler said. “We will use these masks to keep hospital patients and workers safe.”

“Our community is depending on us to work together during this unprecedented time in our history,” STEPS CEO Sharon Harrup added. “We will get through this, and we will help our neighbors get through it as well.”

The Farmville community is encouraged to visit farmvillecares. org for a full listing of COVID-19 resources.