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Sussex group seeks to build on COVID response successes

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During the early months of the COVID pandemic, many efforts to respond to the needs and issues it created came together quickly to provide necessary relief and services.

Now one such effort - the Cape Community Coordination for COVID-19 – is trying to take the connections made and lessons learned and expand the scope of its work.

The group is renaming itself the Cape Community Coalition to reflect that change and we talked to two people involved - Patti Drago and Danielle Swallow – about their work to date and plans for the future.

Delaware Public Media's Tom Byrne interviews the Cape Community Coalition's Patti Drago and Danielle Swallow

An organization formed during the pandemic to address urgent needs in the Cape Henlopen region changes its name to reflect its new focus.

The Cape Community Coordination for COVID-19 is now the Cape Community Coalition, and the group plans to build on collaborations and partnerships cultivated since it formed in March 2020.

The coalition started with a dozen groups and individuals, and has grown to more than a hundred partners, including businesses, health care providers, government agencies, public libraries, chambers of commerce, and social services as well as religious, educational and nonprofit organizations.

During its first two years, the group has helped distribute face masks to health care providers and first responders, and addressed food insecurity in Sussex County by ensuring groceries were deployed where needed most.

The coalition also led a campaign to collect and distribute essential items not eligible under SNAP benefits, and researched and called attention to systemic issues in Sussex County.

Cape Community Coalition coordination team member Danielle Swallow says the pandemic essentially opened their eyes about what kind of help is needed throughout Sussex County.

"There's a number of underrepresented groups in our county and elsewhere that are disproportionately impacted by disasters like the pandemic, and we saw that in real time,” said Swallow. “And this group was really effective at focusing on some of those underrepresented groups and trying to connect them to services and resources. And really what that does in the long run is that it helps to build resilience in the community."

Cape Community Coalition coordination team member Patti Drago adds that emergency responses need to be coordinated better.

"We need to figure out how to build an emergency response, get the county more involved, have the state standing by when necessary so that when these types of things do happen, because they will - imagine a huge storm hitting us again - we need to be able to hit the ground running. So that we can effectuate change and address needs as quickly as we can," said Drago.

Even though their main focus is eastern Sussex County, organizations or individuals from anywhere in the state are welcome to join at no cost.

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Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.
Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for nearly three decades.