Community and Camaraderie in the Midst of COVID-19

By Holly Bonner

When unfortunate times hit home, Chattanoogans emerge with a spirit of camaraderie, reminding us that we are in this together. 

Over the past few months, we have been inspired by local businesses, nonprofits and individuals who have stacked hands (metaphorically of course) to help our community in COVID-19 relief efforts.

While many people have plunged into ‘help’ mode, today we pause to appreciate the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), The Enterprise Center, MurMaid Mattress and TWO MEN AND A TRUCK.

UTC’s Charlie Mix and Partners

While the sheer amount of new information streaming into our homes as COVID-19 sweeps across the country can overwhelm, we’re lucky to have local experts who cut through the clutter and help organizations get the most important things done first.   

Real-time maps make a huge difference, says Charlie Mix, UTC’s Director of the Interdisciplinary Geospatial Technology Lab (IGTLab). The maps he builds highlight areas with a lack of connectivity and food access – and provide tools to help residents locate public WiFi and meal pickup. 

“With our data, we can tell people where diseases are spreading, where vulnerable populations are and what a community’s capacity to respond to it is,” Mix says. “Maps are a largely effective tool for getting information out there.”

Using geographic information systems (GIS), Mix works with The Enterprise Center to create the maps by studying databases and identifying patterns. 

Then, partners like Thrive Regional Partnership use his tools to reach those hardest hit and most in need.

“Addressing COVID-19 is not the work of one organization or two or three — it’s the work of a hundred. And I feel like such an important part of Chattanooga’s story is the way we rally together as a community to solve the most pressing challenges as quickly as possible,” says Geoff Millener, Digital Equity Officer, The Enterprise Center.

“I think people don't recognize how vital being connected is until suddenly everything depends on remote internet access,” Millener says. “Because of the acute nature of today’s challenges, families who didn't have internet access before are at a larger disadvantage now.” 

MurMaid Mattress

As the owner and president of MurMaid Mattress, Roger Pickett always takes unique measures to serve his community with a good night’s sleep.

Founded more than 40 years ago, MurMaid Mattress has a long history of providing quality mattresses, reasonable prices and superior service. The company also has a credible reputation among area nonprofits who share MurMaid’s passion for Chattanooga. 

So when the number of hospital beds became a concern during the COVID-19 crisis, Children’s Hospital at Erlanger knew who to contact. 

“I got a call from Don Mueller, the CEO of Children's Hospital and he said, ‘We are setting up temporary tents in case we get an influx of people. Would you be able to donate 40 bed sets and 40 bed frames?’” Pickett says. 

“It didn't take me a second to say yes. He called on Friday and we had them delivered by Wednesday.”

Early this spring, UTC’s IGTLab recorded approximately 2,800 licensed hospital beds and 3,700 health care providers in the Chattanooga region. Those resources were insufficient to meet the number of COVID-19 cases that data shows we may face.

Because of MurMaid Mattress’ donations, Erlanger greatly expanded capacity.

TWO MEN AND A TRUCK

Not long after Americans received direction to close nonessential businesses, unemployment rates surged to numbers higher than the 2008 recession. 

Life paused. Restaurants, retail establishments, hair salons and even dental practices shut down, leaving employees unsure of what to do during the in-between time. 

And with the employment shift came a wave of job applicants looking to get back on their feet. That’s where businesses in industries deemed essential, like TWO MEN AND A TRUCK, came in, hiring full-time and part-time employees to help during the busy summer season. 

“On average, we’ve been hiring about 10 movers and drivers a week. We understand a lot of businesses have closed temporarily and some people may need a job right now, so we want to get the word out that we are hiring,” says Regan Melton, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK Marketing Coordinator. 

TWO MEN AND A TRUCK also used its role as an essential business to transport 4,000 snack packs from churches to Hamilton County Schools’ food drop-off locations. When Hamilton County Schools closed, a group of community partners began designating those locations for students and families to pick up meals. 

Their recent partnership with Hamilton County Schools goes hand-in-hand with their national campaign, Movers for Moms, coming up on Mother’s Day. At the Chattanooga location, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK collects and transports essential care items from the community and donates them to the local nonprofit, Partnership for Kids, Families and Adults. This year, as unemployment is high, the need for donations may be even greater.  

“We love giving back to the community and assisting in the COVID-19 relief efforts as much as we can,” Melton says. “Especially during this time, we are here to help with whatever anyone needs.”