COVID-19 and Governor Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order came quickly, and in moments of change and crisis, long-standing community relationships are critical.

UR’s Dining Services team was given an opportunity to connect with a regional partner in the early days of the pandemic.

"At the end of spring break, as we realized that campus operations were going to be drastically different for the rest of the semester, we called CARITAS," said Josh Wroniewicz, director of purchasing for Dining Services.

CARITAS is an organization whose mission is to help our most vulnerable neighbors break the cycles of homelessness and addiction. For over ten years, Dining Services has been donating food that is about to expire to for use at their shelters.

"UR gives us all kinds of foods that we can incorporate into our meals, and it’s a blessing," said Jackie Wilson, kitchen coordinator at CARITAS.

Since the end of March, the team has filled five CARITAS vans with product that would have otherwise gone out of date due to the sudden changes in status from COVID-19.

"I’d like to celebrate the organizational skills and giving spirit that allowed us to coordinate getting this product out in a manner still suitable for use by CARITAS," said Wroniewicz. "Dining Services did a great job both limiting our losses and making sure that the product we did lose was able to support the needy in Richmond."

The long-term partnership that Dining Services maintains with CARITAS, shepherded by purchasing specialist Angela Moseley Scott, made the quick response possible.

Other regional needs have come to Brittany Schaal in the Office of Emergency Management who maintains community relationships through local and statewide networks, including the Emergency Management Alliance of Central Virginia and the Virginia Emergency Management Association with a Higher Education Caucus.

"Overlapping circles ensure that we’re getting the resources we need to the areas most desperately searching for it," Schaal said.

Governor Northam established the Central Virginia Incident Management Team for COVID-19, and the higher education representative reaches out to Schaal when resources are needed that might be filled by the University.

In response to a request for personal protective equipment in March, the University was able to donate thousands of gloves to Virginia healthcare workers.

"Maintaining the day-to-day relationships are so important, because when we come to a crisis, we know who our partners are when we need help – and on the flip side, we can support our region," Schaal said. "I can connect the dots with the right people on campus to ensure that we can contribute what resources we don’t need that can better our greater community."

The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement has, likewise, been listening carefully to the needs of community partners across the Richmond region and seeking opportunities to engage students, faculty, and staff with efforts to meet them.

"As the COVID-19 landscape changes daily, we’re eager to be the bridge to resources and opportunities," said Kim Dean-Anderson, associate director of community relationships and UR Downtown for the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement. "Connecting students with remote civic learning and engagement experiences and supporting community organizations in this challenging moment has been our priority."

Tracking regional requests and community engagement and outreach will also continue to be an ongoing focus for the CCE and the University at large.

"It’s important to know our resource capacity now and in the future," Schaal said.