Oxford boosts community initiatives in fight against COVID-19 pandemic

When Emory University decided to transition to remote learning for the remainder of the 2020 spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oxford College continued to prioritize its community partnerships.

Oxford recently seized an opportunity to use existing campus resources to say thank you to 300 frontline medical workers. Social media posts alerted Laura Gafnea, Oxford’s director of community relations, to the need of providing meals to local hospital employees.

“We had the capacity, space, and workers to prepare enough meals to provide lunches to each of the 300 day-shift workers at the hospital as a way to say thank you to all that those medical professionals are doing to support our community,” Gafnea says. Danielle Miller, senior associate dean of finance, operations and technology, and Julie Elion, director of auxiliary operations, helped coordinate the logistics with Oxford Dining by Bon Appétit.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Oxford College leaders wanted to ensure that non-profit organizations who collaborate with Oxford’s experiential learning and leadership programs continued to get needed resources. In addition to the supplies Oxford has provided to these partners in the past month, college leadership chose a unique recipient for a teaching award that will benefit a local food bank.

Awarded by the dean of Oxford College, the Mizell Award is given to a faculty member who has demonstrated superior performance in furthering the education of students. On April 23, Dean Douglas Hicks gave the Mizell Award to the entire Oxford faculty in recognition of their superior efforts in delivering remote teaching quickly and under extraordinary circumstances.

To honor their outstanding work, an award of $2,500 will enable the Oxford Organic Farm to provide fresh vegetables to the Covington First United Methodist Church Food Pantry for their curbside food distribution program. This donation will enable the food pantry to supply fresh organic produce from the Oxford Farm to about 300 families in the Covington/Newton County community on a recurring basis over the next several weeks.

Even before the Mizell donation, Oxford faculty and staff had made donations and contributions of food and essential items to the pantry, which distributes food three times per week to local families experiencing food insecurity.

Oxford also helped the Covington Family YMCA during its recent hunger-relief food drive. During the Newton County Schools spring break, the YMCA stepped in to provide meals and boxes of food to students when the school systems’ regular free lunch deliveries were not available.

Laura Gafnea and Ansley Holder, office manager for the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership, contacted several local community partners to discover their urgent requests. Oxford has a long history of involvement with these partners. Its Theory Practice/Service Learning courses and student organizations Volunteer Oxford and Oxford Service Corps – along with faculty and staff – provide an estimated 13,000 hours of community service each year to these organizations in Newton County and the surrounding area.

“We wanted to make sure that the organizations we work with knew that we were still committed to helping and partnering with them in their efforts to support the community during the crisis, even though their face-to-face interactions with our Oxford students had ended for the semester,” Gafnea explains.

In addition to helping the YMCA feed students over spring break, Oxford discovered an opportunity from Molly McGehee to provide an appreciation lunch to YMCA staff. McGehee, associate dean for faculty development and director of the Oxford Center for Teaching and Scholarship (OCTS), serves as a Covington Family YMCA board member.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the YMCA provides child care for local frontline medical workers. They also raise funds and collect donated food items to aid in local hunger relief efforts.

Thanks to meals provided by local business Plain Nuts, and the logistics skills of Allyson Studer, OCTS senior program coordinator, Oxford provided lunch to YMCA staffers.

In addition to the produce donation to the Covington First United Methodist Church Food Pantry, the Oxford Organic Farm helps provide food boxes to older adults and families in need. The organic farm will soon begin giving lettuce to the Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center for its “Camp Carry Out” meals. The camp has donated over 100 family meals to feed almost 400 people in the Covington area. Normally, the center provides youth with a site for leadership and career development.

For more information about Oxford’s community relations efforts, contact Laura Gafnea at 770.784.8479.