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Turning COVID-19’s SOS into CovidSMS

Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with people of all social classes and backgrounds. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated some of these differences and highlighted key disparities in the treatment of some of the most vulnerable groups of people - the elderly, low-income, non-English speakers, and more. Even with the presence of mass media and education sources, one of the biggest problems these groups face today is the lack of reliable information. I joined CovidSMS to help combat this. CovidSMS helps vulnerable populations by making important resources and information more accessible, and I have the opportunity to be directly involved in these efforts.

I was able to do this with the Family Rescue Center (FRC) - a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that provides families with food, clothing, medical assistance, and vocational training as well as other essential support services. When I first called Family Rescue Center, I was immediately connected with Minister Roger Williams who heads FRC’s health clinic. Minister Williams grew increasingly intrigued as I described our service. Because of the pandemic, Minister Williams and others at FRC lost the ability to see their clients on a regular basis and notify them with time sensitive updates of food and resources in person. FRC had already been considering alternate forms of communication before I contacted them, so Minister Williams said that it was fate that I called when I did. Instead of calling clients all day, with CovidSMS, Minister Williams now has the opportunity to send a single text announcement to broadcast updates to all 700 families FRC serves, saving him time and ensuring clients receive necessary resources and supplies. Thus, our partnership began. In response to FRC’s needs, we have expanded our list of resources to include food, rental assistance, employment, and mental health, to name a few. Minister Williams also has the ability to send announcements regarding food availability and other resources as he sees fit, and he is easily able to do so in both English and Spanish, to best serve his 70% Spanish speaking population. Through these announcements, response occurs within a matter of minutes and clients quickly and efficiently receive the services they need, like coming to pick up food. Our dedication to turning CovidSMS into a service personalized for this organization has enabled us to work well with Minister Williams and his goals for the program. We are now working on a study with a cohort of FRC clients to assess the effectiveness of text messaging as a communication method. We have recruited volunteers from all over the country to assist with this remote study, furthering the impact of this service. We now receive first hand accounts of the benefits and possible drawbacks of our service to make adjustments as we all see fit. With CovidSMS, we are able to use a hands on approach to remain attentive and flexible to a community's needs so that we create the best possible service.

Through CovidSMS, the Family Rescue Center provides Spanish text message updates to clients.

Recently, Minister Williams sent us a message saying that our project is “world class” and “game changing.” It is these recognitions of impact that make CovidSMS so gratifying and powerful to me. We are forever grateful for the opportunity to work with Minister Williams, and his faith in us as a group of students has enabled us to develop CovidSMS in ways that we never anticipated. Minister Williams and I share the same goal for CovidSMS - that our service is able to connect and help individuals and communities across the country efficiently and effectively.


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