Finding common ground in rural Kansas results in successful project

By finding common ground, a health and wellness coalition and its volunteers in a rural southeastern county created a Kansas Beats the Virus (KBTV) initiative that helped change residents’ behaviors and benefited local businesses, while leaving polarizing debates of masks and the pandemic on the sidelines.

For its project, Live Well Crawford County — a multi-partner organization established in 2007 with a Kansas Health Foundation grant — created a county-wide guide of 20-plus stores selling grocery items that offered contactless delivery and curbside pickup. The guide included national chains like Walmart, Dollar General and Aldi’s along with local and smaller ethnic stores.

The idea for the guide came out of a meeting the coalition convened among 10 community leaders from the county’s health department, county extension office, economic development offices and other agencies in December 2020.

To come up with a solution, “we defaulted to health department employees because they were on the frontline,” talking to residents about precautions they needed to take while waiting for COVID test results, said Matt O’Malley, Live Well Crawford County’s director of outreach and development. After hearing they needed to isolate for 14 days, most residents responded, “I better go to the grocery store now.”

With rising positive test rates in the county, the guide was created to reduce the risk of COVID-positive shoppers visiting stores in person, said O’Malley. He developed the guide and created an extensive distribution campaign to raise awareness of the resource.

Common ground in action: A worker from The Pittsburg-IGA supermarket, Ron’s, loads his company van for grocery delivery during the pandemic.

The Pittsburg-IGA supermarket, Ron’s, offered deliveries to two other smaller communities and reported bringing in new customers.

According to 2019 Census data, Crawford County has less than 39,000 residents, with about half of its population living in Pittsburg. Stores located in Pittsburg comprised 11 of the 20-plus businesses listed in the guide, while the other half were stores located in seven of the county’s other 10 towns.

With social media ads and regular posts, the campaign “went as viral as something gets in southeast Kansas, ”O’Malley said. The social media ad campaign achieved 16,000 separate views, with nearly 3,000 people clicking on the ad and 114 shares.

“This was one of the neater things I’ve done and it had such a large impact.”

MATT O’MALLEY

The resource is listed on the coalition’s website, and paper copies were distributed throughout the county to child-care centers, schools, service organizations and COVID testing sites including a mobile unit, as well as the participating stores. Many recipients made more copies to share as the ones provided by the coalition ran out.

For smaller businesses, especially those that were competing with online ordering services offered by national chains, it was an opportunity to spread the word about their new delivery and pickup options, O’Malley said.

“They were trying to figure out how to evolve, too.” The project was covered multiple times in local media outlets, with some of the businesses initiating calls to reporters to let them know of their participation.

The Pittsburg-IGA supermarket, Ron’s, which offered deliveries to two other smaller communities and tracks its customers’ data, reported bringing in new customers, O’Malley said.

O’Malley said he thinks the campaign was successful because “this wasn’t spreading information that someone could see as divisive. If we had picked a more divisive project, it likely wouldn’t have reached as many people.”

As for his part, O’Malley said, “This was one of the neater things I’ve done and it had such a large impact.”

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

This case study comes from our evaluation report on Kansas Beats the Virus produced by Third Floor Research, an applied research center operated in partnership with Kansas State University’s Staley School of Leadership Studies.

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