WEDC staff delivers meal to WV resident, Mr. Walter Conforme donated by Councilman Marqueece Harris Dawson and prepared by local restaurant (Courtesy Photo)

On April 29, 1992, Ward Economic Development Corp (WEDC) had just completed its first housing development – Ward Villas (WV).  In the first month, neighbors – even those who were skeptical about who would move into affordable housing – came to help us protect the newly completed 90,000 + square ft. state of the art complex from being burned or looted.  People of good will provided staples, helped to “man” the fire hoses, stood guard, help residents feel comfortable, setting in place a close community relatedness that has lasted over these last 29 years.

In this season of COVID-19, our community has again moved into survival mode, requiring the assistance of people of good will to help the Elders who call Ward Vilas home survive with dignity, and thrive physically, emotionally, economically, and environmentally.  “How do you say thanks?”  is a popular song but its query is real.  WEDC believes that after we express gratitude, we must share the good news and evidence of neighbor-to-neighbor relatedness that makes our community whole.    Yes, their story of sharing love must be told!

In March, when Mayor Eric Garcetti sounded the alarm that we needed to be #SaferAtHome, WEDC understood that the policy, though challenging was in the best interest of its residents’ health and safety.  WEDC knew that the residents in its housing communities would need more from us.  The daily lunch program for seniors would be suspended, the opportunities to grocery shop would be more challenging, the basic trips for personal hygiene, recreation and other outings would be curtailed, exercise and wellness sessions would be paused, even gathering in the lobby, game afternoon and Monday movies would be stopped. – yes, life would be different. Since all residents are not only on fixed incomes, but fall in the low and very low income strata, the stress and strain would be felt more deeply.

Orkin West LA and WEDC Team prepare for VitalClean treatment at Ward Villas. (L – R) Elvira Perez- WEDC, NIck Rangel- Orkin, Jason Sampson, WEDC, Andrew Hall- Orkin, and Myheshia Coleman – WEDC (Courtesy Photo)

Ironically, we had just mapped out a Plan to help our Elders, physically challenged and others move from isolation to more socialization, now we had to reverse the message and say – stay home please.

Some came without being asked, others responded to a mere suggestion of help needed, but all represent a host of angels who have made “Safer At Home” work.  Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson was first on deck helping to maintain that “at least one hot meal per day” standard by providing a hot lunch from restaurants in Council district #8 to all residents of Ward Villas, a 120-unit housing community for Elders.  What a win-win – helping small businesses and neighborhood restaurants while helping residents.  Next, Councilmember Herb Wesson reached out the residents of Rosa Parks Villas, another senior community for 60 families to offer produce boxes that included at least one month of fresh produce, fruit and fixings. He added catered dinners, again supporting small caterers whose livelihoods were being threatened.  Councilmembers Harris-Dawson and Wesson also responded to residents in scattered sites with limited incomes offering the same support.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer remembered the Elders who he helps to serve annually at Thanksgiving. His office checked on them, which followed with an offer to grocery shop for those who had the greatest need. Those Elders developed a shopping list valued up to fifty dollars to help sustain them.  To their surprise their assembly member shopped and delivered the “goods” to their door.

BHERC volunteers including cast of “Black Lightning” (Courtesy Photo)

In the month of April, WEDC heard from a community corporation, Mr. Marcus Reese Westfield and Ms. Natasha Dick of Westfield Culver City who offered the gift of lunch from two of its retail tenants, Lucille’s and the Olive Garden.  For the month of April, the 180 residents of RPV, WV and our second chance housing community, Tuelyn Terrace received delicious lunches Monday through Friday.

An early partner with WEDC was Mrs. Brenda Marsh Mitchell, founding president of Mothers In Action (MIA).  Her legacy continues as MIA joined with Councilmember Herb Wesson to honor Brenda’s memory of giving by delivering survival package with a catered meal to each resident of RPV along with the LA Sentinel for their reading pleasure.

Mother’s Day weekend 2020 was unforgettable for the residents in WEDC housing communities.  After a mere conversation about wanting to have a serenade to make the day memorable since many women would be away from their families, CoMerica Bank’s Sr. VP of External Relations simply checked out the venue and said, “very few people know that I sing, but I do, and will come to RPV.”  So, on Saturday prior to Mother’s Day, Mr. Larry Reed was presented in concert and residents sang along from their doorways and balconies, and ended with a standing ovation for the singing banker. While physical nourishment is important, mental well-being is a close second and the song medley was a “bright light” for the Elders who because of the COVID-19 guidelines would very likely be away from family gatherings.

That was followed with a Mother’s Day gifting for every woman and man at WV, RPV, and Tuelyn Terrace.  The Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center (BHERC) led by its founding president, Ms. Sandra Evers-Manly arrived with a meal catered by Gwen’s Pastries and Catering for each resident and a gift basket for each female resident.  BHERC including the cast of “Black Lightning” and a group of volunteers joined with WEDC managers for door-to-door delivery on Mother’s Day.

To round out the blessings, Ward AME Church partnered with National Action Network and World Central Kitchen along with #Chefs to    offer restaurant quality meals, simply by driving by or walking up.   What an additional blessing.

As we look forward to the end of the #SaferAtHome period and planned to welcome the residents back into other sections of their homes, Andrew Hall, regional manager of Orkin West LA called to offer a special complimentary treatment, VitalClean which is a powerful disinfectant service for businesses.  Now we can be assured that the common areas are ready for residents to safely enjoy again, when the sheltering order is lifted.

Finally, we are thankful for another survival gift for the seniors.  The Elders are receiving facial masks, donated by the Lucas Museum.  It is a great coming out gift.

WEDC is proud of the diversity in its housing communities where no fewer than 10 cultures live harmoniously and often work to find common ground in any situation.  All of the angel neighbors have added to the viability of this community by giving unselfishly.  This is so important because a majority who are elders age 62+ who are vulnerable and advised the shelter-in-place.

RPV staff prepares to deliver meals from Westfield Culver City restaurants Lucille’s and the Olive Garden to Rosa Parks Villas residents. (Courtesy Photo

Not enough can be said about the willingness of the WEDC team to go the extra mile in serving the residents and partnering with community efforts.  In order to encourage our residents to remain in their apartments, the team insures that the meals in professionally sealed containers are appropriately delivered to the doors, observing social distance standards and with proper personal equipment – mask and gloves.  They assist with distribution of other gifts and resources.

Finally, the work of our US Congressmembers enables WEDC to keep its operations at a standard which the community needs and deserves.  Thanks must be extended to Congresswoman Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, whose webinars keep us informed so that we can pay that knowledge forward to serve our community.  And Congresswoman Maxine Waters, as chair of the House Financial Services Committee oversees the work that led to the CARES Act and its equitable distribution.