Local governments participate in "table-top" exercises or drills to keep skills sharp – to be ready for emergencies. No training or experience up to this point could prepare anyone for a worldwide pandemic like the Coronavirus. The unexpected challenges of the situation have caused Stafford County leaders and staff to become extremely agile and innovative in meeting the needs of a community impacted by COVID-19. Stafford has done everything from standing up a warehouse full of masks and sanitizer gathered from community members to securing millions of dollars of grants and funding to plug gaps in service caused by the unexpected fallout from the pandemic. Recognizing the virus may be present for the indeterminate future, Stafford has established the "Stafford Cares" program to continue to meet the needs of the community.
"This year, more than any other, we have taken to heart the importance of serving the community," said Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Meg Bohmke, Falmouth District. "Yesterday, we announced the first initiative of Stafford Cares – "Supporting Restaurants and Families in Need," a program that uses a government grant to purchase gift cards from restaurants to give to needy families. It creates desperately needed revenue for businesses while providing meals to families who need them."
Stafford's Board of Supervisors wanted to help local restaurants and their employees, all of whom are severely impacted financially by the virus. Simultaneously, the virus is compounding the troubles of people who were already experiencing food insecurity. With the board's support, the Economic Development Department came up with an innovative idea to help both restaurants and the needy. They secured a nearly $800,000 Community Development Block Grant to fund "Supporting Restaurants and Families in Need." Stafford County restaurants may apply for the project between February 15 and February 26 online at www.GoStaffordVA.com. Economic Development will purchase gift cards from restaurants in amounts upwards of $7,500 from Stafford restaurants.
In turn, the Department of Social Services will distribute the gift cards to households currently participating in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. Each recipient family will receive a minimum of $150 in meal cards in two distributions of $75 each. These families will be able to use the cards at one of the 100 restaurants participating in Stafford Cares – helping to supplement their food budgets and give them new experiences during this pandemic. Social Services anticipates sending eligible SNAP recipients the first of two meal cards in March and the second in June.
A future endeavor of Stafford Cares is a partnership with the Rappahannock Area Community Service Board to promote better mental health. Signs with their helpline number (540-376-6876) will be posted throughout Stafford County parks and offices with information on mental health resources as the pandemic have magnified many emotions. Other future Stafford Cares projects will address social and economic impacts, from mental health to physical health to financial stability.
As mentioned above, the Stafford Cares program comes upon the heels of other County's efforts to ameliorate the effects of COVID-19. Stafford has directed more than $3 million in CARES Act money and grants towards businesses and broadband advancement. The County has given $450,000 to nonprofits and community partners like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, SERVE, and the Thurman Brisben Center to help those struggling. As well, $540,000 was given to the Rappahannock United Way to administer assistance for mortgage relief and households experiencing financial hardship in the community.