When the pandemic first hit America in March, I remember thinking that I would go home from college for 3 weeks, everyone would quarantine, and then we would go back to our normal lives. But as I found myself still at home in May, stretching into June, I became more and more frustrated by my inability to do anything to help the public health situation, other than continuing to social distance. That is when I found an email from Hopkins about CovidSMS, a group trying to use text messaging to disseminate information to low income populations who were most impacted by the circumstances. I joined the community outreach team, hoping to use my communication skills to form partnerships with various organizations to build our service.
One of the organizations I contacted was the San Jose Virtual Recreation Center, but my email was forwarded to the Virtual Local Assistance Center, a website aiming to organize many different resources for lower income and underprivileged residents of San Jose. Patrick, Assistant Team Lead of the Coronavirus Relief Fund Grantmaking and Fiscal Unit, and Jeremy, Recreation Superintendent of Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services, emailed me to express their interest in hearing about CovidSMS, and we had our first meeting shortly after. I demonstrated the resource directory from our number and spoke about having a broadcasting portal to allow for announcements and two-way communication, and they loved the idea! They said that they were looking for something exactly like this, since they had their website set up already but were finding it difficult to contact residents without internet access. We had several more meetings to discuss which menu options they would like to have on their customized number, and we are currently finished creating the number in English. Once translations are complete, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese options will also be added for the large immigrant population, and the number will be launched!
Through CovidSMS, the VLAC provides resources, such as phone numbers for local food banks, to clients.
Patrick has told me that he loves the number so much, he sometimes still plays with it for fun, and we’re all very excited to be putting this resource together to help low-income communities in San Jose. CovidSMS has come a long way since I first met with the VLAC, but seeing its evolution and the evolution of our partnership has made me very enthusiastic for our future. I hope we are able to launch this number successfully, and I hope that our success becomes a springboard for future partnerships and allows us to reach a greater number of people.