How The Perry Community Is Handling Their COVID-19 Outbreak

Mowing grass is about the only aspect of life that is normal in Perry these days.

As the Iowa town northwest of Des Moines deals with positive coronavirus tests at its local Tyson plant, several community members have organized—and continue to organize—ways of supporting the students and families impacted by COVID-19. Iowa Starting Line has launched this project to shine a light on the communities and families impacted by the coronavirus in Iowa.

“You can’t sit on the sidelines,” says Eddie Diaz, a community organizer and Director of the DMACC VanKirk Career Academy in Perry. “We have to do that work and push the people who need to be doing the work—to do the work. We need to advocate for this community because there are a lot of people that won’t.”

Some of the ways that Diaz and other community members have tried to help their neighbors during the pandemic include:

  • Distributing 6,000 cloth face coverings to Perry residents
  • Offering “grab and go” breakfast and lunches at the elementary school
  • Using 3D printers to make face shields for healthcare workers
  • Making $30 gift cards to small businesses available for $20
  • Assisting with rent and utility payments

“Everybody is doing the best they can to stay safe and healthy,” says Rev. Andrea Brownlee of the First Christian Church in Perry. “The best words I’ve been hearing are to help people when you are able, ask for help when you need it and give help when you can. That’s where we are right now as a community.”

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Sparking an Act of Kindness

Multiple Facebook groups have formed to help organize different activities within Perry. These activities have included the Easter bunny handing out meals to children and videos for the Latino community to explain what is happening at the state and federal levels related to Covid-19.

Justus Williams said he got the idea of using 3D printers to make face shields from a Facebook group and a call from Diaz. Williams, 19, says he’s always enjoyed 3D printing and has turned his garage into a workspace with four 3D printers. After finding models on the internet to use as inspiration, over 150 face shields have been made in the last two weeks.

“They print 10 at a time, which takes about 16 hours,” Williams explained. “When each printer starts beeping, I remove the 10 that are done and start it up again.”

As a Wells Fargo employee, he’s been working from his home in Perry and will check on the printers during his breaks. He’s donated the face shields to the EMT station in Perry, which are then distributed to other healthcare workers.

“I’ll keep making them as long as people need them,” Williams says.

Feeding Families

‘Grab and Go’ lunches were put on pause this week, fearing a potential outbreak of Covid-19 cases. But in lieu of those meals, the local Hy-Vee and Fareway grocery stores stepped in with help from the Perry Area Food Pantry.

“I’m proud of the team effort, the grassroots organizations that have played a role in helping our community,” Diaz says. “We’re all coming together to get this done.”

Brownlee said the ministerial association is supporting the Perry Area Food Pantry to secure a grant that can provide grocery vouchers for buying perishable items that the food pantry doesn’t offer. In addition to the food vouchers for Hy-Vee and Fareway, residents are able to visit the food pantry once a month.

In addition to the food pantry, Brownlee said the ministerial association has the Good Samaritan Fund to help individuals and families with rent and utilities.

“We work to make sure we can help as many people and families as possible,” Brownlee says.

Gail McFarlin is the Nutrition Director for the Perry School District who said she’s hopeful the ‘Grab and Go’ lunch program can restart on May 4 from the elementary school. The last day she saw students was March 12 before spring break and said the meal pickups are similar to a bus loop, with volunteers going to each car and asking how many lunches and breakfasts they need. The food is then put in the trunk.

“I’ve been in eight school districts and these kids, their families, they are so appreciative that we are here to feed them,” McFarlin says.

In addition to the ‘Grab and Go’ lunches, a local restaurant grilled hot dogs and hamburgers for kids and the Tyson plant gave away a truckload of chicken products a few weeks ago.

Perry Pride

Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson said the city was able to grant $100,000 to the chamber of commerce as a way of offering gift cards to local businesses. Any business in Perry could sign up for the “Perry Pride Business Booster Gift Card Promotion” and people could buy $30 gift cards for $20 as a way of providing cash flow in the short term.

“We rely on these businesses in the ‘normal times’ so we want to make sure that we support them and do as much as we can during this difficult time to help them,” Peterson says. “It’s been a whirlwind working through this. We just have to keep our heads up and get through this together.”

Peterson says it’s a “strange time” in Perry but the city has been working with the school districts and local organizers to keep students engaged in any way they can. Early in April the Parks and Recreation Department bought 1,000 soccer, basketball, football and volleyballs and handed them out with the grab and go lunches.

“Just trying to keep the kids’ minds engaged and bodies engaged,” Peterson says. “The grassroots effort has been prevalent within the community.”


by Joey Aguirre
Posted 5/2/20

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