Vital connections

Organizations work together to help nonprofits impacted by COVID-19

Posted on Apr 30, 2020 :: New North
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

When Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order was announced in mid-March and most businesses and organizations were forced to close, Appleton’s St. Vincent de Paul Executive Director Becca Merklein became concerned immediately.

While most recognize St. Vincent as a store or a place to donate items, Merklein says the funds raised at the store go to help people needing assistance, whether it’s monetary or through a voucher from another nonprofit to pick out clothing, houseware items, furniture or other necessities for free from the store.

“Imagine having the main revenue generator (our store) shut down, but you still have all these people needing assistance, whether it’s financial assistance, clothing, furniture. It’s hard,” Merklein says.

That’s why Merklein felt some relief when the COVID-19 Community Response Fund awarded St. Vincent a $20,000 grant a couple of weeks after the store closed. “Every dollar from that grant will go to help people in need,” she says.

The COVID-19 Community Response Fund is a joint endeavor between the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region and the United Way Fox Cities. Both organizations contributed $50,000 to launch the fund, which had raised more than $621,000 as of April 15 from area businesses, other foundations and community members.

“The response from the community to help at this time has been strong and shows how the area comes together when there is a clear need,” says Curt Detjen, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. “People are not only giving to our fund, but helping in other ways such as donating directly to nonprofits or making sure their neighbors are OK.”

Across the New North, foundations, United Way branches and other organizations have come together to raise and distribute funds to assist nonprofit agencies, which have lost funding sources, seen an increase in service demand or both.

In Green Bay, the Brown County United Way, the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation and the Green Bay Packers Foundation are working together to coordinate their response to nonprofits impacted by COVID-19. Planning began in mid-March as the Brown County United Way received more information about the virus and its potential impact on the area, says President and CEO Robyn Davis.

“By working with the other organizations, we can have a broader reach,” she says, adding the United Way’s board gave its permission to launch the COVID-19 fund with the organization’s own emergency seed fund. “We’re being very conscious of the dollars we are spending and that there is no duplication going on between the different organizations.”

Sarah Inman, vice president of community investment for the Brown County United Way, says grants have been awarded to organizations that support temporary housing, medical supplies and basic needs, including food. “We are awarding the grants in phases since we don’t know how long the situation will last and what needs may still develop,” she says.

Golden House, a domestic abuse program and shelter in Green Bay, remains open but decided that as new clients came in, they would be housed at an undisclosed location to limit the number of people in one location and lessen the potential for disease spread.

“All the funds we received from the Brown County United Way are going right into paying for that off-site housing,” says Executive Director Tonya Dedering. “Paying for six families to stay (off site) for a month costs $25,000.”

Dedering says demand has increased for its services and she is worried about women who may now be home with their abuser 24 hours a day, seven days a week due to the Safer at Home order. “We don’t know what will happen but worry about an uptick in abuse,” she says.

The United Way of Sheboygan County created a grant program to provide funds for struggling local nonprofit organizations focused on delivering basic needs, says Executive Director Kate Baer. “Our goal is to provide resources to groups who provide services to those most in need,” she says.

The organization seeded the fund with some of its emergency dollars and then reached out to area businesses and community members for additional donations. “Every little bit helps,” says Baer, adding that multiple organizations have already received grants, including the Sheboygan County Food Bank, the local humane society and the Salvation Army to name just a few.