During COVID-19, I’ve been touched to see so many examples of Americans making sacrifices for the health and safety of their fellow citizens. I’m proud to say that rural Virginians also extended helping hands in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to share three such examples of our Rural Development partners who are combining compassion with ingenuity to serve their neighbors.
From the start of the COVID-19 crisis, BARC Electric Cooperative in Millboro, and its subsidiary BARC Connects, made its community its priority. First, it waived disconnects and payment penalties for both electric and broadband services. Next, with so many people inside, it offered free channel previews. Then, BARC made free Wi-Fi hotspots available in Rockbridge County school parking lots so students from the entire region could safely complete their online homework. The hotspots were also available to the general public.
Throughout this time, BARC—recipient of an RD Electric Loan this year and in 2018—has maintained its high level of service while also keeping its customers and employees safe.
In Smyth County, the town of Marion’s economy was thriving thanks to the small businesses that form its backbone. Then the pandemic arrived, and more than 40 businesses were suddenly closed. Marion’s Director of Community and Economic Development Ken Heath reached out to RD’s Craig Barbrow and they were able to develop a plan to make $50,000 of previously obligated RD funds available as a stopgap measure. The plan allowed affected businesses to apply for a loan of up to $2,500, interest free for 120 days.
To Marion’s west, the city of Norton faced a similar challenge. The city responded by repurposing a RD grant to issue loans of up to $5,000 for brick and mortar companies with 50 or fewer employees. Businesses that qualify received five-year loans at zero interest rate with no payments due for six months. More than 25 applications arrived in the first week following the city’s announcement, which demonstrated the need for the loan program.
I know that throughout rural Virginia, there are many more examples of people coming together to get through this crisis and what we are doing can serve as an example when life returns to normal. We know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.