By late March in McDowell County, the effects of COVID-19 were beginning to be felt, even if cases were not prevalent in Western North Carolina yet. As McDowell residents experienced the economic impact of the novel coronavirus in the form of layoffs and business closings, the need for food assistance became critical. Thanks to a partnership between McDowell Access to Care and Health (MATCH), Foothills Food Hub and McDowell Local Food Advisory Council (LFAC), families were able to access food, personal care items, and other essentials at distribution sites across the county.

Layoffs were not just happening in stores, factories, and offices though. They were also occurring at the young McDowell Transit program. As ridership fell due to the pandemic, transit administrators were forced to lay off several drivers. Seeing an opportunity to help the community, Alecia Morgan at McDowell Transit and Amy Stevens at MATCH partnered to add the transit department to the existing collaboration and began delivering food boxes to those without transportation, or who were at increased risk if they were to contract COVID-19.

In the beginning, a busy day could include 10 deliveries. Currently, McDowell Transit regularly delivers 50 food boxes twice a week. Thanks to the volume of work, McDowell Transit has been able to rehire all its driver positions and is currently hiring. Since April 2020, the partnership has fulfilled 1,500 requests for food boxes for those unable to access the assistance available at the weekly distribution sites. Deliveries also include personal care items, diabetes test strips, diapers and formula, among other essential items. Approximately 80% of those recipients have also engaged with MATCH for other services including linkage to care and referrals to community resources.

This amazing partnership has brought attention from outside the county. On November 5th, J. Eric Boyette, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, wrote to recognize the innovative partnership between MATCH, McDowell Transit, Foothills Food Hub and LFAC. Secretary Boyette specifically commended the leadership of Alecia Morgan and Amy Stevens for “recognizing the hardship citizens face and responding accordingly to ensure everyone has continued access to food during the pandemic”.

CareReach is proud of the MATCH program for playing such a vital role in a challenging time, and grateful for the spirit of partnership and collaboration ever present in McDowell County.