Photo Credits: MARIO RODRIGUEZ / AGGIE
Online and over airwaves, local community members band together remotely in a period of social distancing
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent shelter-in-place orders, local community groups have emerged to share information, resources and messages of solidarity among residents of Yolo County.
Perhaps the largest of these local grassroots networks is the ever-growing “COVID-19 Yolo Community Response” Facebook group — over 4,000 members strong at the time of writing. There are a wide array of posts about any and all things corona-related that Yolo County residents might be concerned about. Members share local and national news articles, requests and offers for aid and supplies, updates from local businesses and other pertinent information.
The group’s creator, local organizer Kate Mellon-Anibaba, said the idea for the group sprung from her dismay at witnessing what she saw as self-interested behavior in her community. Reports of people hoarding supplies like hand sanitizer and toilet paper inspired her to advocate for a more community-oriented mindset amid the outbreak.
“I was feeling very worried about how people were closing in on themselves, hoarding, only thinking about their own family — and I totally understand that,
Mellon-Anibaba said. “But I felt like there could be this more collective community mindset.”
The Facebook group began with just a handful of members, but it quickly ballooned to thousands in just a few days. Running such a large group is itself a community effort — one that Mellon-Anibaba said was led by a group of dedicated, professional women who volunteered to help moderate the group.
“We have a medical professional in the [moderator] group, we have a scientist in the group, we have community organizers, we have an engineer,” Mellon-Anibaba said. “We have all these really, really smart people — specifically women — who are doing a really good job of vetting information, talking it over and getting outside help to look at resources before we post them.”
A second more-specialized Facebook group formed out of the COVID-19 Yolo Community group, is the Yolo County Mask-Making for COVID-19 group. Inside this private Facebook community, almost a hundred members share information and resources explaining how to make homemade masks for healthcare workers, veterinarians, homeless shelters and other workplaces in need of face masks.
Group founder Haven DePietro said she brought up the idea in the original COVID-19 Yolo Community Response group, after watching a Rachel Maddow segment about face mask shortages among healthcare workers. Administrators from the original group connected her with other members, suggesting that she form a new Facebook group dedicated to the task of mask-making. DePietro said she was unsure exactly how many masks have been made by the members so far, but said that “the volume is increasing.”
“One person made five masks and got them to a healthcare worker, and other people are starting to post about ways to distribute masks they have made, as well as organizations that are taking masks,” DePietro said via email.
DePietro wanted to give special thanks to her co-moderator, Sharyn O’Neil Leith, who she says has been one of the group’s most active members. DePietro said that the group is always accepting new members, especially those who can “sew masks, provide supplies for masks, or are [in] need of masks, either individually or as part of an organization.”
The experience of starting and running the group has been inspiring, DePietro said.
“The outpouring of enthusiasm and support has been really wonderful,” DePietro said. “As far as I can tell, all group members are really dedicated to helping with the need for masks and everyone is respectful of each other and wonderful at taking initiative to work with the information they find in the group.”
The success of the COVID-19 Yolo Community Response group also sparked similar projects outside the internet. Twice a week, local radio station KDRT 97.5 FM broadcasts “The COVID-19 Community Report” — a new program directly inspired by the Facebook group, Host Autumn Labbe-Renault said.
“It sparked the idea of ‘Okay, here are all these people reaching out to offer help or recieve help — let’s do something like that on the radio,’” Labbe-Renault said.
The COVID-19 Community Report features interviews with Davis and Yolo County public officials and community leaders on COVID-19 related matters. Recent guests include Yolo Supervisor Don Saylor, DJUSD Superintendent John Bowes and Mellon-Anibaba. The show also provides an updating list of local services and resources for those impacted by COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place order. New episodes air Tuesday and Fridays at 12 p.m. and rebroadcast at 5 p.m. The show can also be streamed on the KDRT website.
Like many Davis workplaces, KDRT’s day-to-day operations were shuttered in response to the lockdown order. Currently, the station airs repeats of past programming — with the exception of The COVID-19 Community Report. Labbe-Renault, who is also the executive director of Davis Media Access, said she is the sole broadcaster remaining at the station during the lockdown.
“I’m coming at you from the darkened KDRT studio, here at Davis Media Access on 5th St — in a building I’ve closed to everyone else — and I’m wearing latex gloves,” Labbe-Renault said during the opening of her first show. “Suffice it to say, our new normal is anything but.”
Community radio fills a unique niche in times of crisis Labbe-Renault said — in part because of its accessibility, as well as a sense of human connection.
“I think right now, people are hungry for connection,” Labbe-Renault said. “I just think right now, I’m helping people connect — at least I hope I am. Connecting in a time of isolation is so important, especially as the crisis looks like it will go on for some time.”
Written by: Tim Lalonde — firstname.lastname@example.org