COVID: Responding to the Now, Readying for What’s Ahead

June 22, 2021
By: Merry Davis & Marquita Mbonu

By now, we all understand just how deadly COVID-19 is, and even though we’re cautiously optimistic there’s light at the end of the tunnel, the virus further exposed inconvenient truths that could no longer be ignored. Social and racial inequities were brought to the forefront like never before as COVID-19 ravaged Black, Latino, and historically under-resourced communities across the United States. And North Carolina was no exception.

According to Census data, Black North Carolinians, despite making up 22% of the population, accounted for 36% of COVID-19 cases and 35% of deaths at one point. Additionally, North Carolinians who identify as Hispanic or Latino represented 50% of all COVID-19 cases last summer while accounting for just about 10% of the state's population.

As the pandemic took hold in early 2020, urgent action had to be taken, and like so many others, we believed we had a responsibility to respond.

However, it’s not enough. While many across the country and North Carolina have been working to rebuild post-COVID, more than a year later the need has not diminished. Community-based, direct service organizations are still very much in a disaster response phase as disruptions to education, economy, supply chains, transportation, health care, and other aspects of daily life continue. And demand for emergency food is at an all-time high. In North Carolina, food insecurity soared from 12.9% of households in December 2018 to an estimated 24% last spring. North Carolina ranks ninth among states in the latest Household Pulse Survey for adults who said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the last seven days.

Understanding this, earlier this year we committed an additional $5 million to continued COVID response, with a majority of the funding allocated to emergency food assistance. Though our Healthy Food grantmaking is focused on changing systems and policies that impact the root causes of food insecurity, we saw the imperative to also help address the growing need for food at this time. This included placing a statewide emphasis on emergency food assistance with a focus on locally-grown food to also support local economies.

Our continued pandemic response also includes centering racial equity by investing in Black, Latino, American Indian, and other people of color-led organizations and communities to help stem COVID's negative short- and long-term health and social impacts. For example, funding is being allocated for operational grants that are exclusively to grantees who historically experience more barriers to fundraising and play a pivotal role in uplifting communities of color. Read about all 38 grants.

While we value the necessity of an immediate response, longer-term measures have to be taken to deal with the fallout of the pandemic and work to eliminate disparities and inequities within our communities that existed before COVID, but have been exacerbated in its wake. Addressing structural racism and creating more equitable opportunities for health is central to all aspects of our work.

It’s often been said that through adversity, you find out who you are and what you’re really made of. This pandemic has demonstrated that when we come together for a common purpose – as a state, as communities, and as neighbors – incredible things can happen.

This is the momentum we must harness for lasting change when the pandemic has finally subsided.

About the Authors

Merry Davis is the Director, Healthy Food for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. Learn more about Merry.




Marquita Mbonu is a Program Officer for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation. Learn more about Marquita.