Lowell Responds to COVID-19: A Pandemic of Community Action

I’m writing this post from a safe social distance, my home in Lowell. In fact, I am self-quarantined as a result of a potential exposure to the virus during a training for my work as a Census Field Supervisor. Just yesterday, I received a call from the Area Census Office that, for now, the field operation has been suspended until April 1.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken center stage in all our lives.  Creative solutions are in evidence for many –work-from-home options; Zoom for meetings, meet-ups and religious services; on-line classes; PeaPod, GrubHub and Amazon deliveries.

Then there are the more vulnerable among us – those living paycheck-to-paycheck whose jobs have evaporated. Families scrambling for child and teen-care due to unprecedented school closings. The elderly and the immunocompromised. Individuals who have immigrated to our community, or sought refuge from danger in their home countries. Those suffering from addiction or mental health challenges. People with no place to call home.

It is in the face of crises – whether immediate, short-term or long-lasting – that the resilience of all of Lowell’s people shines.

In recent days, the local response by individuals, non-profits, and other groups has been ramping up to keep pace with the ever-changing impact of the crisis. 

Take for example, the rise of LLAMA (Lifting Lowellians: Assistance and Mutual Aid), “a volunteer network to support matching offers and requests across Lowell for deliveries/childcare/and other needs.”  LLAMA is inspired by similar networks in Medford, Somerville and Jamaica Plain. 

According to Elizabeth Pellerito, Lowell resident, Director of Labor Education Center at UMass Lowell, and one of LLAMA’s organizers, “We know there are lots of nonprofits in the city who want to provide services.”  The challenge, she explains, is how to extend their capacity in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Everybody is looking for a way to help, which says a lot for Lowell,” said Elizabeth. “It’s been a harmonious blend of organizations coming together” to make the network happen in a matter of days.

Since being established Saturday, 350 people have joined the Facebook group, and the survey responses have begun to come in.  Elizabeth said that offers have covered a broad range, including virtual companionship, running errands, 5 rolls of toilet paper, help with unemployment applications, even a spare room for someone who needs a place to stay.

“People in Lowell have big hearts,” she said. “They want to help in any way they can.” Fueled by the collaborative spirit of the city’s nonprofits, and harnessed by people like Elizabeth stepping up to organize the network, LLAMA is weaving a safety net of, by and for the community.

LLAMA is circulating a survey to community members to facilitate connections between individuals with particular needs and those who have resources to offer. LLAMA invites you to complete the survey at this link

I entreat us all to join together to make “compassion in action” our motto and mantra. Our well-being now and in the future depends on it.

Local COVID-19 Resource Round-up:

Lifting Lowellians: Assistance and Mutual Aid (LLAMA)

City of Lowell Emergency Operation Center: 978-674-4052

City of Lowell Coronavirus-COVID-19 Updates

Coalition for a Better Acre Comprehensive list of resources in Lowell

EforAll-Lowell-Lawrence COVID-19 Entrepreneur Resource List

Greater Lowell Community Foundation GLCF COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund To meet unanticipated needs of nonprofits serving our community, particularly vulnerable populations

Census Field Operations in suspended animation until April 1

I’ve been working in the field for the 2020 Decennial Census “Group Quarters Operation.” This means I’ve been conducting advance contact with group quarters, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, and housing for religious people. Some of my GQ field supervisor colleagues have been assigned to college dorms and other locations where groups of people are housed — or would be housed but for the closing of most/all dorms in the state. I have also been undergoing training to assist with the SBE (Service-based Enumerator) Operation, which was set to begin March 30, 31 and April 1 at shelters, soup kitchens and outdoor unsheltered encampments.

I received a call this morning that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the protection of those being counted and those conducting the count, the operation is suspended until April Fool’s Day (which is also officially “Census Day”). The pandemic is wreaking havoc with many things, and the Federal Decennial Census (taken once every 10 years) is no exception.

In the meantime, individual households will be receiving a notification with instructions regarding three options to respond. For the first time ever, the census is offering an online option in addition to participating by phone or by completing a paper form. The goal is for a COMPLETE COUNT. Why? Because an accurate account leads to appropriate allocation of funding for community needs, as well as representation in Congress. Your participation matters!

For more information, go to:

City of Lowell web page

Coalition for a Better Acre web page

Yet my bones…

scope creep is epic and predictions dire

Today is a day to behold! The sun has raised the temperature to the mid-40’s, phoebes and chickadees flit and sing, the Concord’s whitewater is running, here where spring has sprung early. Blue skies and just-emerging buds. Rain fell last night, but didn’t soak the ground. There’s barely enough run-off to fill thirsty watersheds. In the midst of climate change, this winter’s warmth predicts a tic-heavy season to come. We take such known changes in stride, and adapt as a matter of fact. Yet the scope creep is epic and predictions dire. The speed of arctic melt is accelerating. Coastlines erode apace, toward the disappearance of half of all beaches by the end of this century. What the human eye can see in real time just does not compute with these projections. Yet my bones and cartilage, reptilian brain, my sinews and skin, my imagination, all of me is aware of the great existential threat we face. I am beholden to learn now, fight now and act now. To pray now, give now, ache now, love now. To know that all is here is now. And to live accordingly.

Concord River running behind Bagshaw Mills, Lowell MA (photo by Emily Ferrara)