While the entire U.S. has been affected by the opioid epidemic, certain states and counties have been hit harder than others. Nationally, Ohio ranks third behind only West Virginia and Delaware for the highest rate of overdose deaths involving opioids. Many of those overdose deaths are caused by fentanyl, a powerful opioid that’s now regularly found in other drugs like cocaine.
Unfortunately, the Ohio counties and communities most impacted by opioids and COVID-19 have also faced other challenges prior to and during the pandemic, including job loss, food insecurity and a lack of resources to address mental health issues. Ohio also lags behind the national average for COVID-19 vaccination rates, currently ranking 40th in the U.S. with only 55 percent of people vaccinated.
Organizing the Labor of Love Thrive Wellness Fest
To address these issues in communities where LIUNA members live and work, several LIUNA affiliates – including the Ohio Valley and Southern States TriFunds, Ohio LECET, Ohio Laborers’ Apprenticeship and LIUNA Local 83 – joined together to organize a community outreach event in Portsmouth, Ohio, which is located in Scioto County.
LIUNA affiliates coordinated with the Recovery Coalition of Scioto County and Thrive for Change, a non-profit subsidiary of Thrive Peer Support, to ensure that substance abuse, peer support and recovery resources would be available at the event. That included educating attendees about how to use naloxone, a lifesaving tool that can reverse an opioid overdose.
“In 2020, we have seen about a 30 percent increase in overdose deaths in the state of Ohio,” said Bethany Friedrichsen, Project Manager for Thrive Peer Support. “It’s really heartbreaking to see us lose some of the progress we’ve made in recent years in overdose deaths during the pandemic.”
Next, LIUNA affiliates found vendors to provide other services needed by the community, including a healthcare provider to administer COVID-19 vaccines. Overall wellness checks, including measuring attendees’ blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose, were provided by LIUNA through the LHSFNA’s health fair program.
To ensure the free event would have something for every member of the family, organizers also worked with vendors to secure food, live music, a bounce house and giveaways of toys and socks for kids. LIUNA Local 83 stepped up to donate food, water and soda for the event. Local businesses, including Distel Construction and Wagner Rentals, contributed to help build the stage. LIUNA affiliates credit canvassing local businesses on foot before the event for their success in securing vendors and getting buy-in from the community.
“The local community really rallied together over this important issue,” said Shella Rupa, Assistant Director of Ohio LECET. “We hope to keep this momentum going and hope to serve more individuals throughout the state.”
Ultimately, the Labor of Love Thrive Fest, which was held outdoors at Spartan Municipal Stadium on a day where the heat index broke 100 degrees, featured 25 vendors and was attended by more than 400 people.
A Clear Need for Recovery Resources
One of the goals of the event was to connect people currently suffering from substance abuse disorders with help that would start them on a journey to recovery. On the day of the event, many attendees shared that they were already in recovery and were eager to talk about their experiences and show support for others. Struggling with substance abuse issues or knowing a family member or close friend who had dealt with those problems in the past became an area of common ground for many community members who attended.
In a show of support for those in recovery, attendees also participated in a symbolic march for recovery led by the Portsmouth Fire Department that took them out of the stadium and spanned several blocks. After convening back on the grounds, organizers facilitated a lantern launch as a way to honor the memory of those who had lost their lives to overdose.
Takeaways and Planning for Future Events
Given the overwhelming response at this event, LIUNA affiliates in Ohio are already thinking about what to do next.
“We hope to make this an annual event in Portsmouth,” said Karl Jefferson Jr., TriFund Field Coordinator for the Ohio Valley and Southern States Region. “There are 22 LIUNA Locals across the state and plenty of opportunities to provide outreach in those communities too.”
LIUNA affiliates interested in hosting similar events can take away several tips from the success of the Ohio Laborers’ Labor of Love Thrive Fest. “It may sound obvious, but make sure you have someone with experience planning events,” said Jefferson. In addition to laying out the space in a way that worked for both attendees and vendors, organizers submitted requests for sponsorships and community help far in advance. Providing restrooms on site that were ADA compliant, creating a ticket system to track the distribution of food and drinks, getting local plainclothes police officers to provide security and having a master of ceremonies to keep the crowd engaged are only some examples of logistical issues that had to be considered. “After that, the best tip I can give is to let the community show you what they need.”