As we mark the first anniversary of when life was beginning to change because of COVID-19 in Berks County, many of us are reflecting on all of the historical events and the social and health concerns that have transpired. Despite all the challenges, Berks County continues to be resilient. And because of the ongoing community efforts, we can finally start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

At this time last year, the community was on high alert. There were several community efforts to address issues that were arising as a result of COVID-19. For example, there were several Zoom meetings each day to address concerns about maintaining students’ access to food when the schools closed, keeping tenants in their homes when their employment status changed, or making sure that there was a local organization in Berks County to do the contact tracing work. As soon as one issue was addressed, another appeared.

When the number of positive cases in Berks County decreased in the summer and the community was preparing for a “second wave” in the fall, the Community Foundation was able to reflect on what had happened in the spring and knew there was an opportunity to learn from the experience. To effectively address any future crisis in the community, it was necessary to assess Berks County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We asked Tammy White from United Way of Berks County and Jim Gerlach from the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance to help us create a community task force. Tammy and Jim served as task force co-chairs with Kevin Murphy, Community Foundation president. It was important to interview community leaders to understand their experience and any barriers they faced in their fields during the pandemic. An independent consultant was hired to survey community stakeholders who represented the health, education, business, and nonprofit fields. Once the information was gathered, the task force of 16 community leaders discussed the results and developed eight recommendations for the community. You can download the report from the task force here.

I hope that you take the time to read the task force’s recommendations and use them as a learning tool. It’s important to address community issues that were highlighted as a result of the pandemic so that we are better prepared for other crises in the future.

The entire team at the Community Foundation thanks all of the task force members for their time and for creating this invaluable community resource.

We will be sharing updates on our progress on the recommendations through our e-newsletter (sign up for the e-newsletter here). Stay tuned!

Monica Reyes

Health and Human Services Program Officer

Berks County Community Foundation