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Lean on Me – Coronavirus and the Poor

April 26, 2020

A yellow fever epidemic struck Philadelphia in 1793, killing over 5000 [1].  Nearly half the city fled.  Public services were so stressed that city government collapsed under the strain [2].

In the absence of a crisis plan, Mayor Matt Clarkson pleaded with residents for clothing, food, and donations [3].  Volunteers responded generously.  They organized a fever hospital and a temporary home for children orphaned by the epidemic.

Members of the Free African Society were especially selfless.  Black nurses tended to the sick; black men buried the bodies – white and black – others were afraid to touch.

Coronavirus and Food Banks

In an average year, America’s food banks struggle to feed over 46 million (including 12 million children, and 7 million seniors) [4].  During the coronavirus pandemic, that figure has skyrocketed.  Food banks are desperate for supplies, as a result.

Meanwhile, farmers have been destroying crops and discarding milk, because of disrupted supply chains [5].  The USDA plans to offer $16 billion in grants to farmers and ranchers [6].  The USDA will purchase $3 billion in meat, dairy, and produce to distribute to food banks and charities.

Coronavirus and Community Health Centers

The community health centers that treat America’s poor and uninsured are close to buckling, in the face of this pandemic [7].

Indications are that African Americans and Hispanic Americans are particularly vulnerable to the virus [8].  This may, itself, reflect the disparity of medical and other resources in our society.

A.  Staffing

Often short-staffed to begin with, the community health centers that serve our inner cities and rural areas have been hard hit by layoffs and furloughs.

For many, these non-profit clinics are the only source of medical care.  Now, they screen patients for the coronavirus, as well.  If hospitals are overwhelmed by a surge of patients, such clinics will be hard-pressed to absorb the overflow.

B.  Funding

Meanwhile, clinic revenues have been greatly reduced by the pandemic.

The 1,362 community health centers nationwide are expecting $1.32 billion in additional funding from the coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress [9].  According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, however, that will only provide assistance for 37 days.

In an effort to cope, clinics are increasingly relying on telemedicine (with phone and video interaction substituting for in-person visits in cases of high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes).  But low-income patients do not always have sufficient minutes on their phones or a data plan.

At this time of crisis as in the past, the strong must help the weak.

Both non-profits are top rated by Charity Navigator.

We lean on one another, as we lean on our God.

For they call themselves after the holy city, And lean on the God of Israel; The Lord of hosts is His name…” (Isa. 48: 2).

[1]  Wikipedia, “1793 Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic”,

[2]  History, “Yellow fever breaks out in Philadelphia”, 11/13/09, Updated 10/8/19,

[3]  Zocalo Public Square, “How Epidemics Shaped Modern Life” by Katherine Foss, 4/1/20,

[4]  Hunger in America, “Hunger in America Study of 2014”,

[5]  CNN, “Farmers are throwing out food that could go to food banks. American Farm Bureau and Feeding America want to change that” by Amanda Jackson and Vanessa Yurkevich, 4/14/20,

[6]  The Hill, “Trump announces $19B program to help agriculture sector” by Sylvan Lane, 4/17/20,

[7]  New York Times, “Just When They’re Needed Most, Clinics for the Poor Face Drastic Cutbacks” by Kirk Johnson and Abby Goodnough, 4/4/20,

[8]  CNN, “Why black Americans are at higher risk for coronavirus” by Eric Levenson, 4/7/20,

[9]  NPR, “What’s Inside the Senate’s $2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid Package” by Kelsey Snell, 3/26/20,


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