Team Effort Serving Vulnerable Populations in East Lansing

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Above: East Lansing School Board President Erin Graham in a photo by Raymond Holt.

While some people in the East Lansing community found themselves bewildered by the sudden changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, others have sprung into action.

On Thursday, March 12, Governor Gretchen Whitmer ordered the closure of all K-12 schools in Michigan due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. The next morning, East Lansing School Board President and community member Erin Graham woke up earlier than she normally does and created a Facebook group entitled “EL Neighbors and Communities Help Each Other.”

The group is dedicated to supporting the East Lansing community, including by meeting the needs of both students and families during the closure.

All those who are interested are able to join if they join Facebook. Now comprised of over 1,700 members – ranging from college students to teachers and families – the collective describes itself as “a group to help out families who are confronting the reality that schools are closed, to assist college students who have had classes/campuses shut down, and to help out others in the broader community who may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.”

When asked about the extent of donations the group has amassed, Graham said that “Over 230 different donors contributed, and the district was able to send $12,000 worth of grocery store gift cards to 800 different ELPS families.”

“Maggie Moore, an ELHS teacher, and I spent many hours at the grocery store purchasing gift cards. Subsequently, school district administrators stuffed envelopes with these gift cards and a note and mailed them out to families,” Graham said.

ELPS Superintendent Dori Lekyo came up with the idea of including a drive for books and personal items – needs to which community donors also responded.

All collection was done by the community group and items were then distributed with the assistance of the school district. Graham’s house was designated as a drop-off site for donations due to its close proximity to East Lansing High School.

In addition to the drives the group has organized, they have also developed a “meal train.” The need for such a meal delivery service was recognized when a mother and daughter were unable to leave their home due to the mother awaiting COVID-19 test results. Available slots for the meal train on the Facebook page were quickly filled.

The group received so much from the community within the first week that they were able to pause donation solicitation, though other efforts to assist East Lansing families continue to be posted on the Facebook page.

The work continues apace.

“We are looking to help meet all community members’ needs, and are particularly focused on the needs of those who may be most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19,” explained Graham.

Yesterday she told ELi, “The ‘asks’ are continuously evolving. For example, recently Edgewood Village was asking for donations. Some local nursing homes and assisted living communities have asked for pen-pals, and most recently there was a request for baby monitors for hospitals in Flint (so they can monitor patients).”

The group is doing all it can to help. Want to participate? Check out this page.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed

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