Appalachian Center for Equality meets needs in WV through mutual aid platform

The Appalachian Center for Equality (ACE) enters the fall of 2020 with the challenge of safely engaging its youth members while also assisting in managing a new tool to directly respond to local economic challenges that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus.

In West Virginia, high schoolers have returned to in-person classes, after having met virtually with ACE staff for structured weekly meetings during the summer—both to check in and catch up and to plan for college and scholarship opportunities.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first caused business closures in the state, ACE and several other area organizations formed the Facebook group WV Food ER 2020 to gather immediate information and resource requests, which quickly shot to over 4,300 members. Through this page, community members were able to organize volunteers to handle transportation and education activities to benefit families, and funnel donations into a new resource coordination platform as more and more West Virginians lost their sources of income.

RapidResponseWV (RRWV), the new platform, is an easy-to-use site that processes both requests for aid and volunteer sign-ups to distribute aid. It also hosts important information on other resources available to West Virginians as well as coronavirus-related updates from the Center for Disease Control.

After being used to distribute several thousand dollars in initial mutual aid, the platform secured an additional $17,000 in grants to purchase necessary items for vulnerable families who are at risk of falling through the ever-growing cracks in the state’s economic infrastructure. With the help of over 400 volunteers, 505 households have been able to receive pandemic-related EBT, eviction and/or utility assistance through RRWV.

ACE and partnering organizations and volunteers also assisted in referring a large number of families to outside groups and aid networks, including playing a pivotal role in getting families rehoused who were evicted in July after the state moratorium ended.

RRWV volunteers continue to work to ensure that the tool is up to date, with over 1,000 resources currently searchable by county for people looking for help.

The site also includes information for the Vote Together WV initiative, the joint effort of a nonpartisan state table to West Virginia that's dedicated to increasing voter turnout and engagement.

Local staff are planning to rebuild a policy coalition in order to push a new bi-partisan bill for mutual aid, as families’ needs for federal intervention become more and more urgent each day.