Buffalo County Community Response Team meets the need during pandemic

Published: Aug. 4, 2020 at 5:54 PM CDT
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - A Buffalo County group is connecting people with the basic support and resources they need during this pandemic.

The Buffalo County Community Response Team formed in March to help fill housing, food, transportation, internet and overall health needs in the area.

As of June 30, the group allocated $89,000 in flex funds to 14,021 people in need of these services.

“We’ve been able to fill some of the gaps in the community for resources for community members that are struggling,” said Wanda Fedorchik, a central navigator for the Community Response Team. “It doesn’t just have to be related to COVID, but this situation that we’re in has presented a good opportunity to help many, many, many people.”

Buffalo County Community Partners received $157,494 of funding from three major donors and local community donations. This money supported the infrastructure to start the new collaborative and build the pool of flex funds to support basic needs of individuals in Buffalo County.

More than half of the flex fund went toward food insecurity. Each week, about 1,500 Buffalo County residents are served food boxes through 35 local food pantries. The rest of the money went toward housing and mental health needs like teletherapy for those that are uninsured or underinsured.

“I don’t see this need going away,” said Julie Calahan, chair of the Community Response Team. “I think what we found during all of this is if we come together as a group and if we communicate more, we have found that we can achieve some pretty great things.”

Funds also provided laptops for Goodwill Industries of Greater Nebraska, which are being used for their developmental disabilities services.

Goodwill serves around 20 people in the Kearney area. Kim Buschkoetter, vice president of compliance and communications for Goodwill Industries of Greater Nebraska, said since they couldn’t have face-to-face programs when the pandemic hit, staff had to figure out a way to stay connected and continue services for participants.

She said they realized technology was the best way to do that, but the group didn’t have the devices needed. Receiving the laptops allowed them to continue programs and rehabilitation services virtually.

“When we were able to provide services remotely, individuals were able to have the opportunity to retain all the skills that they work so hard to achieve,” Buschkoetter said. “They were able to participate in classes. We had COVID-19 health classes. We had activities of daily living, social skills development. We had reading classes. We continued with our sign language classes, money management and that daily support.”

The director of the Developmental Disability Services said without the virtual option, participants would’ve struggled with isolation, depression and heightened transition issues as restrictions loosened.

The Community Response Team works with about 15 local agencies to figure out areas of need, some of which are even more prevalent during the pandemic.

The group relies on these collaborative partners, who also pledge to serve and support families in the community. Existing service providers help find appropriate funding for individuals. If no funding is found, then the team’s flex fund is intended to provide money based on each situation.

The goal is to pool everyone’s resources to provide the best services and care for the community.

“When we’ve seen that no other service has been available is how we identify that need in the community, whether it’s transportation or mental health counseling,” said Martha Marfileño a central navigator for the Community Response Team. “That has helped identify when other agencies were unable to provide funding for a request. We see that as a gap in our community. So this flex funding has helped fill some of those gaps.”

The Community Response Team was recently awarded a little more than $400,000 through the Cares Act, which they’ll use to continue helping people in the community.

Copyright 2020 KSNB. All rights reserved.

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