As I state the obvious, 2020 Did. Not. Turn. Out. How any of us had planned! Our long-term strategic planning over the past five years, however, has paid off. The Chamber of Greater Easthampton had already been shifting to a more agile chamber model and was able to adapt quickly and effectively to the sudden change of environment.

As of the third week in March, when the stay-at-home mandate came into effect, we closed our brick-and-mortar operation and efficiently established our remote operation. Events were paused. And the collecting, disseminating and broadcasting of the fire hose of information commenced and will continue until we are safely out of this.

As of this writing, we have pushed out 68 member-community communications. These communications consisted of sifting through, as I said, the fire hose of information that was coming at all of us, to make it more usable to our stakeholders. It was important to me that, during this time, our members and the greater business community get clear, concise information.

These times are confusing enough without having to waste time sorting out the wheat from the chaff. What is it that my business and I need to do now, in order to navigate through this pandemic?

These communications have included information on state mandates, legislation, programming on all levels, resources, and available funding. Anything that would affect or help our businesses. We have become even stronger connectors of those who need assistance to those who are able and eager to assist.

The chamber also has a seat at the table with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, along with many of our business support organizational peers.

We have and continue to share and promote any tools, such as the state’s #MyLocalMA campaign and free tool kits local businesses can use in their promotion and marketing.

Grant-funding opportunities presented themselves, and, as we often do, we were able to pull together a strategic public-private partnership between the city of Easthampton and private donors. Thus, the Sustaining Small Business Grant was born, and we were able to assist 31 of our local qualifying small businesses. These grant dollars helped our businesses with the reopening costs associated with COVID-19.

We quickly developed our business resource page on the chamber website to make referrals to important programs quick and easy.

The Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council is another collaboration for which our chamber has been a very active partner, together with the Northampton and Amherst Area chambers. We have been planning collectively so we can have a strong, safe promotional plan for Hampshire County when the timing is right.

The chamber also partnered with Easthampton City Arts in creating the “Greater Easthampton Holiday Gift Guide.” I am super-proud of this listing of artisans, retailers and service providers, in our continuing effort to remind people that shopping local means infusing our local economy and supporting our neighbors — especially during these times, when shopping at a big box store is so convenient. The words “Buy Local or Bye Local” never rang truer.

Maureen Belliveau is executive director the Chamber of Greater Easthampton. To learn more about the chamber, go online to Easthamptonchamber.org.