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Lethbridge collaboration recognized by World Health Organization

​A local community-based collaboration designed to provide a strong, unified, comprehensive COVID-19 response during the initial period of the pandemic has drawn international attention.

The "Lethbridge Helping Organizations COVID-19 Response" was launched by City authorities to strengthen collaboration by local groups to serve the needs of all residents and ultimately helped maintain low numbers of COVID-19 cases during the first wave of the global pandemic.

Rob Miyashiro, City Councillor and Executive Director the Lethbridge Senior Citizens Organization, worked with Caroline Bergeron of the Public Health Agency of Canada and Lori Harasem, Community Social Pandemic Response Manager for the City of Lethbridge, to develop and submit the application to the World Health Organization – and they have included it in their World Cities Day (Saturday, Oct. 31) publication and discussed during a Facebook Live event early Friday morning.

"I am very proud of everything our social helping organizations have accomplished to date and I am very humbled and excited that WHO has selected our community effort to be profiled," says Miyashiro. "This new normal of community partnerships illustrates the innovation, strength, and resilience of the City of Lethbridge."

Excerpt from the WHO page: "When COVID-19 first arose in the Canadian city of Lethbridge, the province of Alberta shut down all businesses, schools and non-essential operations. The severity of the outbreak was relatively low, but the restrictions affected the whole community.

How? A total of 146 members representing approximately 50 local organizations joined an online platform (called "Slack"), including not-for-profit charities, not-for-profit businesses, faith-based organizations, community-based funders, city staff, police, the public library and Indigenous organizations. A University of Lethbridge funded organization, Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group (LPIRG) helped create a Facebook COVID-19 Support page where 3,000 community members offered each other help – the mutual aid included such things as picking up medications, offering rides, lending each other house supplies, etc. This support page also included daily updates with information and support from the COVID-19 leadership group, as well as other key information from local, provincial, and federal government initiatives (e.g., about the Canada Emergency Response Benefit)."

Other programs created included:

  • Volunteer wellness checks and the delivery of food bank hampers to older people.
  • Restaurant suppliers and local hotels had a surplus of pre-ordered food that they gave to the food bank. 
  • The food banks coordinated food distribution to any social service agency that required food. Local food programs delivered between 15 per cent to 25 per cent more meals to community residents than before the pandemic.
  • Several organizations worked together to help the homeless and low income population through food deliveries and setting up a clothing and furniture bank.
  • Utilized the HelpSeeker website to assist residents to see what businesses were open and what services were being offered.
  • Through a collaboration of organizations that work with families, pop up family events in city parks took place providing information about resources, activities and allowing for socializing, following COVID guidelines, to those feeling isolated at home. More than 1,000 people attended these events and 1,785 activity kits were handed out.
  • And because there was limited mobility for people with disabilities during the pandemic, all of the services listed above were provided in partnership with disability services. It is expected that health outcomes have improved significantly due to all these organizations working together so closely.  

"One of our biggest issues was also how to get word out on all of these resources as many of the people they were meant for don't have access to technology, so we started using the food bank hampers to share information on the resources available in the community," says Harasem. "After hosting a few webinars, other municipalities did similar work. It's amazing how this came together. Every organization was open to working together in new ways."

"It is the first time that the social organizations in Lethbridge have worked this well together, and they have now established a long-term sustainable network for community support that can be used for future city planning and response," says Miyashiro. "The City of Lethbridge now knows that community partners and stakeholders can – utilizing an online platform – respond quickly in emergencies and pandemics, and can collaborate effectively to address the needs of its most vulnerable populations."

The WHO Facebook Live event with Director Dr. Etienne Krug took place early Friday. The video can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/WHO/videos/366115831310037

The Lethbridge case study can be found on the WHO website here: https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/lethbridge-helping-organizations-covid-19-response