The COVID-19 pandemic created an avalanche of unmet needs for the Taos community. In order to help meet those needs, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and local partners created a comprehensive working group to coordinate relief efforts.
The Enchanted Circle of Community Organizations Active in Disasters, or EC-COAD, was formed in March as a multi-pronged effort to shore up businesses, schools, and safety protocols in the face of the novel coronavirus.
"It really addresses some of the gaps that we have in this community, and probably always have known we've had, but really has brought them to the forefront," said Luis Reyes Jr., chief executive officer of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative.
According to figures released by KCEC, the cooperative has donated in-kind services through the EC-COAD valued at over $700,000 as of the end of November. Those services include food distribution, business continuity support, shelter services, broadband support and propane subsidies.
A network of helpers
The COAD was first proposed by David Elliot, emergency manager at Holy Cross Medical Center, based on existing models of community cooperation. KCEC, the Taos Community Foundation, Holy Cross Medical Center and the Town of Taos were its founding partners.
COADs are designed to address the unmet needs of a community by creating organizational structure for government, business and nonprofit groups to work together. It isn't owned by a singular entity -- it functions as a network of leaders from all sectors willing to work together for the good of the community.
The Taos Chamber of Commerce, El Pueblito United Methodist Church, the Taos County Fire & EMS Department, the Taos News and Taos Ski Valley were also early partners in the EC-COAD.
The COAD created task forces in a number of critical-need areas: food and agriculture, diversifying the economy, social services, education, communications and business support. It also launched Taos Connects, a volunteer network to assist the community long-term.
Reyes said he sees the challenges ahead as an opportunity to build a stronger Taos community. "It's looking at the silver lining during this pandemic," he said. "We can either complain about how bad it is or we can do positive things."
For its part, KCEC is expanding broadband access for online education and telehealth. It's also investing in a solar future. The cooperative has even pledged to keep local propane tanks full despite an inability to pay by customers.
As a COAD partner, the Taos Chamber of Commerce is helping businesses open safely, and offering assistance in grant writing, so local companies get the funding they need to stay open.
"The COAD is committed to problem solving, and having actionable deliverables to help our community to pivot -- to be innovative," said Lindsey Pfaff Bain, executive director of the Taos County Chamber of Commerce.
She stressed the importance of buying local right now. "It's really been difficult for our small businesses," said Bain. "But with the new year, there's new hope."
Feeding the hungry
The COAD partnered with St. James Episcopal Church, expanding their Meals on Wheels program to provide pre-prepared meals to 40 more low-income seniors since the pandemic began.
"It really is about helping to build relationships among existing programs, so that we can all be more cohesive in how we respond to help our neighbor," said Jill Cline, a youth minister at St. James Episcopal Church.
Lessons in resilience
Reyes said he thinks the local economy needs to diversify beyond oil, gas and tourism, and the pandemic is providing an opportunity to try new things.
"We need to become more than a one-horse town. When tourism isn't here, for whatever reason -- COVID, drought -- we can still have an economy that can sustain us until things get back to normal," he said.
For more information or to get involved, visit eccoad.org.