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The Ottauquechee Health Foundation’s Response to COVID-19 and How It Supports the Communities It Serves.

The coronavirus pandemic has added pressure to healthcare systems across rural America. That same pressure has been felt at the Ottauquechee Health Foundation (OHF). To meet new demands, OHF shifted how it operates to support the communities it serves in multiple ways.

In the early days of the pandemic, OHF worked to provide gloves, masks, and toilet paper to local food shelves for distribution to their patrons. In addition OHF staff and board members volunteered at various community organizations and the Foundation offered financial support to help them meet increased demands.

OHF and the Ottauquechee Health Center’s Community Care Coordinator worked together to ensure food delivery to area residents. This effort continues today as many community members still struggle with having enough food to feed themselves and their families because of the pandemic. The Foundation’s partnership with the Woodstock Area Relief Fund (WARF) allowed OHF to accept referrals for all health- and wellness-related requests that came through WARF. This enabled each organization to focus on specific areas of need and address them accordingly.

OHF expanded its granting policy to accommodate the needs of community members affected by the pandemic. Through at least the end of 2021, though likely longer, OHF will fund requests for unforeseen medical expenses due to COVID-19, including medical bills, insurance co-pays, and any other health and wellness requests that fall outside of normal granting policy guidelines. As a result, the OHF is more nimble and proactive to thoroughly assist those who need it most during such challenging times.

In addition to direct community work, OHF also worked diligently with area schools to supply support as they approached the beginning of the 2021 school year and transitioned back from remote learning to in-person instruction. The Foundation funded hands-free sanitation stations for the Windsor Central Supervisory Union and Ottauquechee School, and provided funding for a trauma-informed art therapist who specializes in using art to supply social-emotional support and therapy for students in response to traumatic events, like the pandemic.

OHF has also provided “Safe Space” mats to help ensure social distancing and provide social-emotional retreat spaces for students.

The toll of the pandemic on young families and students is, and will continue to be, far-reaching. The support the Foundation provided allowed for schools to feel more secure in their ability to provide the students in our area with not only a safe space they deserve, but also a healthy supportive environment.

OHF’s backbone programs, Good Neighbor and Homecare Grants, continue to be utilized extensively by those in need. These programs have shifted to accommodate the increased and diverse needs of the communities OHF serves. Year to date, the Foundation has received 199 grant inquiries totaling over $185,000 in funding requests from residents of its nine core towns. The foundation expects to exceed its current granting budget for 2021, and we fully expect to continue to provide pandemic relief into 2022.

The Foundation’s dynamic and nimble programs, paired with the passion to assist those who need it most, creates a model for community resilience. The Foundation’s mission is rooted in helping communities thrive in the face of adversity—whether that adversity is navigating and supplementing health insurance shortfalls or meeting the unexpected needs of a community during a global health crisis. OHF continues to be there for our community, one grant, one neighbor, one friend, one need at a time.