This blog post was written by Ava Schwemler, Communications and Digital Engagement Coordinator at Philly Counts

 When the COVID-19 crisis hit Philly, the Philly Counts team worked to quickly pivot our Census Action plan. We originally planned to host in-person community events and conversations through the spring and summer, however, guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 prevented us from doing so. The census must still go on! We found an opportunity to shift to a digital engagement strategy, and to fuel a phone banking effort with our staff, partners, and volunteer power. 

Since the beginning of March, Philly Counts staff and volunteers have made over 120,000 calls to households all over the city, to remind them of the importance of a complete and accurate census count in 2020, and to help them make a plan for participating.  To date, nearly 8,000 of those calls resulted in a household making a plan to complete the 2020 Census.  55% of those who made a plan to participate with a phone banker planned to complete the census online, while 36% planned to complete it using the paper form, and 9% planned to by phone. 

Philly Counts Staff and Volunteers making phone calls

A volunteer phone banker, Scholar Tamika Ponds, reflected on her experience talking to Philly residents as an opportunity to facilitate positive change in our city.

“Advocating on behalf of the 2020 Census has afforded me the luxury of helping to make sure I continue to do some part in efforts to better the community I live in, as well as the communities around me, by ensuring all those who reside in certain areas are accounted for, in order to obtain the financial resources needed to maintain our communities”

After developing our COVID-19 Community Response Captain Training program, our team quickly recognized the necessity to address residents’ most urgent needs first, prior to inquiring about the census. Volunteers who completed the COVID-19 Community Response Captain Training used an expanded phone banking script that offered information and resources related to COVID-19 and the challenges the pandemic brought to our city. The updated script prompted callers to ask whether or not households were aware of the Stay-at-Home Order, had access to food and medication, and whether or not they needed rent assistance. 

Before the pandemic forced residents to remain at home, phone banking volunteer Joe Alkus of the Bella Vista Neighbors Association had been very active in his community.

“Being a COVID-19 Community Response Captain and a phone bank caller allows me to still help people who need guidance and help during these times.  For me, it is very rewarding to be able to help someone find the support and assistance they need,” he said

Our phone banking effort has illuminated the caring nature of our residents. Several community partners who phone banked with us, like the Asociacion de Cosmetólogas de Pensilvania and West Kensington Ministry, have also arranged for volunteers to home deliver food baskets to homebound residents, including senior citizens.

Phone banking with the Philly Counts team is a simple action that you can take on your own time, or with friends! With every conversation, we are making sure that Philadelphians feel empowered to complete the 2020 Census, and see it as a step toward a more equitably resourced city. 

New phone bankers are encouraged to participate in a Phone Banking training, during which they will become familiar with the process and script and learn best practices for phone banking.