April 15, 2020, Star Editorial Board
In a society like ours that depends on many nonprofits to provide emergency services in times of crisis, having someone who can make sure it is all running well is a gift. Fortunately, such an organization actually exists in the Napa Valley.
The Napa Valley Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) is a behind-the-scenes organization that coordinates the efforts of its 75 member organizations, helps them avoid duplicating efforts, and assists them in filling gaps in service, especially for the valley’s most vulnerable populations.
COAD coordinates the flow of aid and resources among community organizations and serving as a liaison with government agencies. Notable local members include the City of St. Helena, the St. Helena Unified School District, UpValley Family Centers, Rianda House and the Napa Valley Vintners.
The Napa Valley COAD was formed in 2016, after the Napa earthquake and the Valley Fire. Other counties have similar organizations, and people from Solano County have recently asked for help forming their own.
Director Celeste Giunta has a lot on her plate. For one day last week she had 14 meetings on her calendar, which she acknowledges is a bit much.
This is COAD’s biggest test yet. COVID-19 has shut down major sectors of the county’s economy and left thousands out of work and in need of aid. Giunta said there’s been “astronomical demand” for food, and the breadth and duration of the crisis surpass those of the recent wildfires.
COAD is not a direct service provider but coordinates the delivery of services to vulnerable populations where they are most needed, as well as ensures unified messages. Work is organized through subcommittees which are dedicated to critical areas including food access, individuals with access and functional needs, seniors, children, animal welfare, mental and spiritual health, volunteers and resource management, and emergency financial assistance.
The food pantry needs Spanish-speaking volunteers? The COAD might know who can help. Two organizations are tripping over each other’s feet trying to provide the same service? The COAD can play referee.
While COAD doesn’t typically award grants, it did give one to the City of St. Helena this winter for emergency preparedness. The money was used to support neighborhood training and for the April 19 Community Preparedness Fair (which was postponed until the fall).
COAD’s members say it is essential in times like these.
“The COAD exists to bring order and efficiency to the inherently chaotic and rapidly changing climate that surrounds challenges like COVID-19, and can help leverage and stretch philanthropic dollars to meet the most urgent needs,” said Terence Mulligan of the Napa Valley Community Foundation, which funds COAD.
Local nonprofits already collaborate, but during a crisis COAD helps them coordinate their services more closely and amplify a shared message that comes down from the county, said Julie Spencer, executive director of Rianda House.
Local activist Tish Wagner said COAD helps nonprofits scale their services during a crisis and uses data to assess local needs and coordinate services.
There’s no telling how long this extraordinary time of need will continue. There’s a good chance we’ve “flattened the curve” of COVID-19 by staying home and practicing social distancing when we venture outside. That undoubtedly saves lives and prevents our health care system from breaking down, but it also means prolonging the economic shutdown – and therefore the economic pain – for months.
In the meantime, our friends and neighbors will continue to need help and a complex network of charitable and public organizations will continue to provide that help, with COAD helping to increase efficiency.
This crisis will end eventually. But, COAD will provide the same assistance in the next crisis, with the lessons learned during this pervasive challenge to our community.
For more information, go to napavalleycoad.org.