by Jack Barnes
(Plain Press, January 2021) “Las Dos Fronteras invites you to maintain your distance and wear your mask supporting Neighborhood Family Practice and Metro West!” reads a post from Jesus Amelia Lucero, in Spanish, on her restaurant’s Facebook page. The post includes a video showing off the taqueria’s COVID precautions like floor stickers and limited capacity in-restaurant seating.
Las Dos Fronteras’ efforts are part of the Community Cares Pledge Program, recently introduced by the community health center Neighborhood Family Practice and Metro West Community Development Organization. The program supplies participating small businesses with COVID-19 Business Kits that include Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), COVID-19 education and testing information, and bilingual signage requiring mask wearing among other things as part of an agreement that the businesses will maintain safety guidelines. So far more than twenty businesses have signed on and the Neighborhood Family Practice (NFP)-Metro West Community Development Organization coalition is eager to expand the program.
Since the summer Neighborhood Family Practice has organized bi-weekly meetings with other local organizations to discuss how they can best support the community in the pandemic, with a specific focus on the Latinx community. In this setting NFP was able to combine its health expertise and resources with Metro West’s close relationships to the small businesses in the Stockyard Neighborhood, Clark-Fulton, and Brooklyn Centre.
According to Metro West’s Marketing & Economic Development Coordinator Selina Pagan, the seed of the Community Cares Pledge Program was a one-off event at her family’s jewelry store sponsored by NFP in which they distributed education about COVID safety and testing information. “And that really got my wheels turning about how to get more businesses involved and spread education,” she says. From there the organizations collaborated to draft up the Program as it is now, and NFP used money from a Federal HRSA grant to fund it.
While Lucero’s restaurant has been hit significantly, she is lucky to describe her business as “surviving” in the pandemic. Las Dos Fronteras has lost formerly regular families as customers and has been serving mostly working people. Having a clientele of essential workers, of course, makes coronavirus safety all the more important. It is also precisely where the Community Cares Pledge comes into play and an apt demonstration of the program’s name. Customers have been following the guidelines and they have made both guests and staff feel safer, Lucero says.
There has been particular interest from several participating businesses in the literature on testing: apparently many of its readers did not know that COVID testing was free, according to both Lucero and Pagan. This constitutes a success for the program, especially for NFP on the health side. “This allows us to get the word out that testing is available at NFP,” explains Director of Community Engagement Megan Meister. She adds that they would love to provide more support and more kits for small businesses. Pagan, too, hopes to carry out her idea for expanding the program by bringing it into senior centers.
The program seems to be going well for all parties involved. Metro West and NFP do not feel it necessary to monitor whether the businesses are following the guidelines. Instead, they are focused on ongoing communication to ensure the businesses reach out if they need more resources. Indeed, the signage reminding people where to stand, to wear masks, and that masks can be provided is an end in itself.
While there are no formal metrics in place for measuring the success of this program, Pagan was eager to point out that learning more about the barriers that vulnerable businesses face is a success for the community development organization. This program has exposed some of the bigger problems these businesses face even if not for the pandemic, like the digital divide and financial literacy.
Meister explains that for NFP “the goal is always to best support the community and increase access. We have built great relationships with community partners and businesses that didn’t exist before.”