As the coronavirus crisis has escalated, Winneshiek County residents have watched people around the world panic.

It doesn’t matter which channel; the news is bad and filled with dire warnings. Fortunately, in these unprecedented times, our community members and leaders are looking for ways to keep our community members healthy, our businesses solvent, and our economy stable.

They are taking the call to slow the spread of the virus and lower the curve seriously. They may even show the rest of the world how caring, ingenious, and creative rural Iowans can be.

Winneshiek County Development and Tourism just announced a new project with Decorah Now.

Executive Director Stephanie Fromm noted, “We live in a part of the world where people are ingenious problem solvers. We know what it means to act locally and buy local. We know from past experience that our citizens our resilient, innovative, and caring. We care for each other and take care of each other. We have strong families and work every day to have strong local economies. What we are and how our rural communities’ function in Northeast Iowa is very different than New York or Seattle. That is why we knew we wanted our response to be different and why Winneshiek County Economic Development and Tourism was so excited to partner with Decorah Now to establish the Decorah and Winneshiek County Mutual Aid Network. It won’t be the only thing we do, but it is the first and we believe one of the most important.”

Fromm noted that the network will function through Decorah Now to help community members, businesses, and organizations from throughout Winneshiek County and beyond, share information and resources, read more about what is happening locally, let others know they are available to help, and/or to ask for help, suggest ideas, and share positive stories.

Why and how did it come about? This effort came about in part because several people want to help and didn’t know how to get in touch with people who needed help. Kayla Scholl, Brad Crawford, and Liz Rog from Decorah Now were thinking that our community needed a way to streamline communications so that we could meet the needs of individuals and the community as a whole. Crawford explained, “We were wondering how we could connect people. So for example, what if someone could safely offer temporary child care to families, especially health care workers, who must continue to work during this time? How would they get ahold of those people that need help? What if at risk community members just need someone to pick up groceries or household items? Are there businesses that could offer temporary work to healthy people who are temporarily out of work?” Scholl noted, “I wondered if we could set up a specific board on Decorah Now for requests for help and offers to help during the COVID-19 outbreak? Contact could be made just like it is when someone is selling/buying on Decorah Now.”

Around the same time, Steph Fromm and Lora Friest from Winneshiek County Development and Tourism were thinking that individuals and businesses needed a way to connect and help each other in innovative ways. Fromm noted, “We wondered, what if we encourage shifts in business policies and management that, if given a chance, could help our community members. For example, why not start more delivery options from our restaurants but if they do, how will they tell people? What if our small business counselors help our downtown businesses, and other small businesses, improve their on-line presence so more commerce can happen on-line, but if they do, how will we get the word out? What about individual community members who need assistance but have no family here? If we have people who want to help, how do we connect them?”

Friest noted that, “Because Winneshiek County Development and Tourism already works closely with Decorah Now, the partnership was obvious. I just gave Brad a call.” Brad Crawford, who has helped businesses and nonprofits create websites, was already at work developing the on-line platforms. The partnership was off and running. Crawford noted that, “Liz reached out to the community, and Lauren Bonney put together a logo in record time!” Soon others were contributing and committed to helping. Fromm noted that she is excited to see what happens and how these on-line platforms inspire people in our community. “We all know of some amazing things that people are already doing so we are excited to get that word out and inspire others. Just yesterday, I was contacted by several people who have committed to paying their child care bills even though their child care is closed. They want to make sure their child care providers are available when the child cares and schools reopen. That is just one of several examples of what is happening here.The individual things that people are doing...they are a big deal.”

When asked what people could do, Brad Crawford encouraged them to go to the website and complete the “I need help” form, the “I can help” form, join the Facebook group and if they can, join the coordination effort.

For more information, visit https://decorahnow.com/mutual-aid-network/ or contact Brad Crawford (brad@decorahnow.com) or Stephanie Fromm (director@winneshiekdevelopment.org).