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Rural communities find ways to help one another and keep track of county COVID-19 updates without internet access

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In areas like Creston, where the nearest cities of Atascadero and Paso Robles are about 11 and 14 miles away, respectively, getting the word out about coronavirus is up to the community. So is helping those who need it.

Making the drive to town might not be safe and could be a challenge for seniors and immunocompromised individuals, Creston Women's Club President Jennifer Best told New Times.

The Women's Club has rallied 18 volunteers and established the Creston Response Team to help those in need with essential errands for groceries or pharmacy pickups.

Its main platform of communication has been through club members, neighbors, and friends who are either on Facebook or email. Best said the club also realizes that seniors don't necessarily have web access.

"We are posting flyers at our community's main communication center—the community board outside the post office," she told New Times via email.

The flyer lists a phone number that people can call to sign up for assistance.

"We have also asked those we contact with email/internet access to help their disconnected neighbors sign up online if help is needed," she said.

Best maintains the list with direction and input from the club's board members. When a request comes in, she can look at the requester's address to pair with their closest neighbor.

"You use the pharmacy in Atascadero? Then I'm going to pair you with your nearest volunteering country neighbor who plans to go to Atascadero anytime soon," Best said.

Some of the Creston Response Team volunteers are employed by essential businesses so they still have to go to town regularly, and a grocery pickup is easy to do, she said.

In Santa Margarita, Caliwala Food Market & Deli is working hard to keep its shelves stocked for customers.

Owner and operator Erin Inglish said a majority of her customers come from Creston, Pozo, Park Hill, Santa Margarita, and south Atascadero. Inglish is currently taking grocery orders for pickup via email and offering curb-side pickup

"The good news is very few people know that we're here, except for locals. And because of that we're able to supply a reliable and safe food source because we don't have tons of people coming in at once," she said.

She said, thankfully, there isn't a food shortage, and there certainly isn't a toilet paper shortage.

"There is a distribution conundrum going on right now because of the panic purchasing. So, unfortunately, you know, I'm competing with hundreds of other markets that source from the same suppliers. So it's a matter of being patient and diligent," Inglish said.

She said even if she can't find an item for her market one day, she will more than likely get it within the week.

"Everyone will be fed, and everyone will be well. People are just going to have to, at least for the interim period, adjust to not having everything at their fingertips instantly," she said. "But so far I think we've been able to provide a really reliable, consistent, source for our foods."

SLO County 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold said she isn't surprised that rural communities are banding together to help one another at this time.

"One thing I'll say as a resident myself out in these remote areas is I think people know each other and, more so, they know people's particular circumstances. In other words, there's usually reason to be in contact with each other, all the time, for different reasons," Arnold said.

In rural communities, she said, neighbors often check in with each other because these communities overcome fires, drought situations, and even deal with cattle on the road together.

"It's more of a neighbor-helping-neighbor type of community," she said.

Even though many individuals aren't connected to the internet, Arnold said in the Pozo area where she lives, she's seen an increase in access. The older community is keeping in touch, if not via computer, it's through cellphone or tablet.

For SLO County to stay connected with residents, Arnold said the county created readyslo.org. The website directs visitors to information on disaster preparedness, current emergency information, and recovery information—under the "current emergency information" tab are COVID-19 updates and resources.

Arnold said the county has also set up a program to procure food and prescription medication for self-isolating seniors and individuals with chronic medical conditions.

Arnold said the county is working closely with the Public Health Department and other entities to contain the coronavirus' spread and keep the county informed.

"I would want people to feel confident that the county staff is working really hard to protect people from this COVID-19 virus," Arnold said. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com.

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