A grassroots “hackathon” aimed at helping the city weather the coronavirus lockdown matches volunteer ingenuity with needs that are likely to outlast the pandemic.

 Created as an emergency weekendlong hackathon when the pandemic hit Central Ohio in mid-March, Can’t Stop Columbus has already outlived its intended length by eight months—and it shows no signs of stopping. 

Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus for the Columbus Partnership, originally dreamed up the hackathon as a two-day brainstorming session to find safe ways to help people affected by the pandemic. Now, the program has grown to 50 ongoing projects—and Davis sees no end in sight for the effort. 

“This reality where we all had to work from home pushed us to organize in a different way, but I think we’ve always needed something like this, and I think we probably always will,” says Davis, co-organizer of Can’t Stop Columbus with Derek DeHart. 

She admits, though, that she never dreamed the project would last this long. “This was not my vision at all,” Davis says. “I thought it would be a weekend thing where we could have a concentrated amount of time with a lot of energy and maybe get a few projects out of it. … I’m just so amazed at the community to evolve it in this way. I think it’s just a testament to this city and the empathy people have.” 

The projects initiated through the effort address a wide range of needs. Curbside Concerts allow people to send musicians to perform for a loved one who is isolating at home; Columbus Emotional Health offers mental health resources; and Columbus Remembers helps people with funeral planning and grief at a time when in-person funerals can be dangerous. There’s also a smartphone app created for the Mid-Ohio Food Collective to match users with available resources they qualify for, says Matt Habash, the food bank’s president and CEO. The projects target 12 impact areas, with about 700 volunteers. 

While the pandemic continues, Can’t Stop Columbus is expanding its mission to meet additional needs. One project, Come Together Columbus, brings together people committed to racial justice and police reform; another helped people get to the polls to vote safely. 

Steve Flaherty is a volunteer involved from the beginning. Flaherty, who owns the Yumii Kettle Corn food truck with his wife, Rachel, manages Columbus Truckside, a Can’t Stop Columbus project to help food trucks get some business to replace revenue lost when summer festivals were canceled. Flaherty says the projects Can’t Stop Columbus has generated show the effort can last beyond the pandemic. 

“It has grown beyond itself. It truly echoes the heart of Columbus and what Columbus means,” he says. “Being able to come together and do something like this, it just speaks to what Columbus stands for.”

Reprinted from Giving: A Guide to Philanthropy 2021.