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MMA Innovation Award winner, From The Beacon, February 2021
Recognizing the obstacles people faced during the spring shutdown, the town of Stoneham set up a command center to coordinate its COVID-19 response and streamline the services it provides to at-risk residents.
From inside the shuttered Senior Center, the Stoneham Command Center addressed residents’ pandemic needs from mid-March until August. The center set up a grocery delivery service, helped deliver school meals, and distributed masks, among other services.
“We knew there was going to be a demand in the community,” said Town Administrator Dennis Sheehan. “As concerned about COVID as we were, we were really worried about the short-term needs of people just to survive on that basis.”
Each day, about a half-dozen employees worked in the command center, coordinating activities and planning COVID-related services. Employees were able to distance safely in the large senior center, Sheehan said, and moving employees there allowed for more distancing in town hall.
Working with the Stoneham Stop & Shop and the Stoneham Food Pantry, the center established the On-Demand Grocery Delivery Service, which helped financially insecure households get groceries. In addition, the service helped residents who could afford groceries get faster deliveries, especially as commercial grocery-delivery wait times stretched into weeks during the spring.
“We knew that there was going to be a gap in food distribution in that sort of environment,” Sheehan said.
At-risk households could call the center, and employees would determine whether the callers could afford groceries or needed the food pantry’s help. For residents who could afford groceries, a center employee would take the grocery order and send it to Stop & Shop, arrange payment, and drop off the groceries within 24 to 48 hours. In the meantime, residents with especially urgent needs could receive an “essential bag” containing basic groceries and supplies donated by Stop & Shop.
The command center also helped the School Department deliver school meals to families who weren’t able to pick up the meals. Town employees also distributed masks, gave out gift cards and care packages, and made wellness-check calls to residents ages 75 and older.
In terms of outreach, the town mailed 6,000 postcards to seniors to explain federal COVID guidelines and reassure them that services continued, even if the senior center was closed. It also asked “trusted local influencers,” including town and school officials and community group leaders, to spread the word about center services on social media.
The command center assisted with the delivery and distribution of more than 300 grocery orders, 110 essential bags, 6,000 school meals, 13,000 masks and $14,500 in donated gift cards. To accomplish this, the town relied on donations, the support of local businesses, and federal Coronavirus Relief Funds.
“Everybody just came together,” said Procurement Officer April Lanni. “It was just an amazing thing to watch, and to be part of.”
The command center shut down in the summer, and ended the grocery deliveries as commercial alternatives improved. The town is still helping to get school meals to families, arranging transportation for seniors, and addressing other needs as they arise.
The strengthened relationships among town groups and the connections made during those first pandemic months will be the command center’s legacy, said Select Board Chair Raymie Parker. She and other officials credit the center’s success to employees, including Senior Center Director Maureen Canova and Planning and Community Development Director Erin Wortman.
“I’m so proud of the town of Stoneham for stepping up and doing this, especially during these times,” Parker said. “It would have been very easy for people to say, ‘No, I’m staying home, it’s COVID, I don’t want to risk it.’ And these people didn’t stop. They put on their gloves and their masks, and they went out and did it.”
For more information, contact Planning and Community Development Director Erin Wortman at EWortman@stoneham-ma.gov.