Article published by Omaha World-Herald

Just as public health officials explain that it’s important for communities to deal with the coronavirus’s health effects earlier rather than later, the same should go for addressing the virus’s local economic fallout. It’s encouraging to see Midlanders already mobilizing to help those in need.

The needs in Nebraska and Iowa unfortunately may be great. The shutdowns due to health precautions are appropriate, but they’re creating major complications for many Midlands businesses and households. Some adults will lose their income. Low-income children will face food insecurity. And at this point no one knows how long the virus disruptions will last.

The Midlands’ food banks, pantries and other community partners will play a crucial role in coming weeks, and the Food Bank for the Heartland has been laudably proactive in this situation. The nonprofit, which works with 600 partner organizations to serve 93 counties in Nebraska and western Iowa, recently purchased $200,000 worth of food to prepare for the virus threat.

About 79,000 children in the organization’s service area are food insecure, says Brian Barks, the food bank’s president and CEO. Many of those boys and girls are Omaha Public School students. People can drop off food donations at the Food Bank for the Heartland, 10525 J St. Otherwise, monetary donations have the most immediate impact.

Barks rightly observes, “This is going to be long term. People aren’t just going to bounce back right away.” The need for new donations in coming weeks will be great.

Commendable, too, is the creation of the COVID-19 Response Fund by the Omaha Community Foundation and other local foundations. The fund will initially focus on five areas of need, including food support, health care, emergency housing, emergency financial assistance, and assistance to seniors.

Nonprofits that the fund is already working with include the United Way of the Midlands and the Food Bank for the Heartland. Donations to the fund can be made at www.omahafoundation.org/COVID19.

The Nebraska state government is helping by waiving some requirements on obtaining unemployment benefits to speed benefits to Nebraskans. The state’s unemployment insurance trust fund fell to $124 million a decade ago during the Great Recession but by last year had rebounded to $550 million.

Everyone is aware of how the shutdowns will hit restaurants and many other local businesses. Now is the time for Midlanders to support those businesses by ordering online or via phone apps. It’s hard to exaggerate how much those purchases will be appreciated as local businesses strive to deal with the crisis.

The Midlands need to be as proactive as possible not only in meeting virus-related health care needs but also in meeting these other wide-ranging community challenges.