Councilmember Harris-Dawson, residents and community organizations pose at the King Day Parade. (Courtesy Photo)

In just a few weeks, the coronavirus has completely changed life as we know it. This pandemic has also exposed the wealth and necessity of community-based organizations, and a need for a substantial social safety net. Every resident is feeling the devastating impact of COVID-19 within South LA and across the City of Los Angeles. This crisis requires elected leaders, residents, and community-based organizations to collaborate on solutions. The vital role of South LA nonprofits like Community Coalition and other resident led organizations is amplified during times like these. While many residents are rightfully focused on meeting the needs of themselves and their families, many feel a responsibility to help their neighbors and their community at large during this pandemic.

“Surviving this crisis will require innovation on every level,” said Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “Our emergency senior meals program was an opportunity to quickly respond to the needs of our community. We need every organization and individual to consider how they can help their neighbors make it through this. This is a time for unity, not isolation.”

On Monday, March 16, Community Coalition (CoCo) joined other community-based organizations, in an act of solidarity, to suspend their customary hours of operation, asking staff to work from home in the interests of public health and safety. This was a huge deviation from their normal model of grassroots organizing. For 30 years, CoCo has helped turn a flicker of hope—arising from a small gathering of people in a living room convened by founder Congresswoman Karen Bass—into a vibrant reality for thousands of Black and Latino residents. In the midst of a crisis, CoCo continues to fight for equity, opportunity, and justice for South LA. Their “People First Platform” has adapted to mobilize their members in creative ways while practicing physical distancing. Currently, CoCo members have focused on helping students access laptops; supporting mental wellness and arranging mental health services for our youth; as well as delivering basic needs and essentials to over 40 South LA families.

“We don’t want people thinking they have to face these hardships all by themselves,” said Hector Sanchez, Deputy Political Director at Community Coalition. “The fallout from this crisis is all the more reason for us to be there for one another and have each other’s back. That’s what South LA is about and it’s why organizations are stepping up for the community during this time to provide the needed resources and services. We get through this together, not as individuals.”

This crisis has catalyzed widespread community action. A patchwork of South Los Angeles community-based organizations, churches and individuals have erupted to provide services to residents during this crisis. A cooperative called Community Response System of South Los Angeles (CRSSLA) launched operations, including emergency centers, medical triage and food distribution centers. Community Build Inc, the lead agency for CRSSLA continues to provide food weekly from their corporate office and at their Vermont site.

Local, state and federal elected officials have all introduced legislation to help address the devastating financial and health ramifications of COVID-19. As a lifelong organizer, LA City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson understands the need for a holistic approach to solve the problems this crisis presents. His office launched the emergency senior meals program to support two highly vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic: homebound seniors, and small business owners and their employees. The program also engages community based organizations like Community Coalition to manage outreach and intake.