By KAVYA RAMESH
Created in response to the global pandemic, the Regional Response Team (RRT) has found success in connecting agencies and individuals to meet human needs.
Founded in March 2020, the RRT is a collaboration of nonprofit, public and private philanthropic organizations that created and continue to offer a centralized system of response to meet the social needs of community members most adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the Greater St. Louis region.
According to its website, the RRT is committed to advancing the health and well-being of vulnerable groups, essential workers and frontline healthcare providers in a five-county area that includes the city of St. Louis and St. Louis, St. Charles, Madison (Illinois) and St. Clair (Illinois) counties. Since its founding, the collective has raised more than $1,345,344 (based on February 2021 data) and reached 200 agencies through its Collaborative Action Network and partnered with 269 agencies on coordinated campaigns, according to its Year in Review.
In the early months of COVID-19, RRT member agencies helped to coordinate the delivery of food to local children and families in need via school districts, libraries and food-related nonprofits. The RRT fielded two surveys to determine which school districts were providing food and collected best practices for safe distribution to make sure that children who were now staying home had access to food resources. Todd Barnes, a member of the RRT Steering Committee and executive director of the Community Council of St. Charles County, said that many of the agencies the RRT worked with used surveys to communicate with area residents.
“When COVID first started, we (started) running (surveys) through Community Council’s weekly e-newsletter. We (were able to) reach out to between 4,000 and 4,600 folks each week in terms of creating that information chain … using that weekly e-newsletter to create a survey forum for folks to be able to respond, not necessarily back to us, but we were the communication vehicle and we could monitor, through RRT, what the needs were and then we could tailor (efforts) more locally,” Barnes said.
Established in 1954, the Community Council is a collaboration of health and human services nonprofits in the Tri-County area. “We work very closely with agencies on hunger and homelessness issues … (in) St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties. So when we talk about serving our neighbors, primarily that’s our service area, but RRT has allowed us to find resources for folks that maybe were outside of (our area),” Barnes said. “Need does not recognize these boundaries that are artificially put in place, whether it be the bridge over the Missouri River, the Mississippi River, county lines or even community lines.”
During the early stages of COVID-19, Barnes said the RRT reached out to the Community Council’s Senior Services Task Force, which was conducting surveys related to finding personal protective equipment (PPE) for area first responders and medical personnel.
“We had a group that stepped into that realm really quickly,” Barnes said. “A group within the RRT was very quick about being able to find where we can either share resources or find the actual need instead of (relying on) a local group. These groups are amazing, but sometimes you just need a regional voice that can say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this, we need this and how can we make that happen.’”
Barnes said that even as there have been drastic reductions in the pandemic, the need for the RRT continues.
“The delta variant has certainly become an issue so our team will continue to work with a number of partners, particularly to prepare St. Louis on its communication and outreach campaign in its most vulnerable areas,” Barnes said. “We find that the need to talk, communicate and find solutions and actions continues.”
He noted that the current challenge is areas with low vaccination rates. The RRT “has some great community outreach about how (the) vaccination isn’t a scary thing and it’s good to get vaccinated,” Barnes said.
“Groups like RRT have done an amazing job,” he said.
On its website, the RRT offers both individuals and organizations the opportunity to ”get engaged” in its efforts, stating, “What none of us can do alone, all of us can do together.”