Friday, March 13, 2020 is a date we will long remember here at the Community Foundation. Leading up to that Friday, we knew things were getting serious and had started thinking about how we as a Community Foundation would respond to what appeared to be a pandemic. Then, when President Trump officially declared the novel coronavirus a national emergency on March 13 and word began spreading that Governor Kemp would declare a public health emergency for the state of Georgia and enact a shelter-in-place order the following day, we acted. That Friday we created the Coronavirus Relief Fund and also began working to decide how to best help our community.
Our board, our team and numerous community leaders and fundholders immediately jumped into action and started making things happen. Here’s a glimpse into how we all cared through COVID-19, not only in Gwinnett but throughout surrounding counties.
Community Response Team
This team was created the day the national emergency was declared. Led by our board member Scott Mawdesley, it quickly grew to over 80+ participants including all our food banks, Gwinnett County, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, our Health Director Dr. Audrey Arona and many others. They spent hours meeting via Zoom to ensure needs were met. The initial focus was on food, volunteers and funding and then expanded to healthcare, workforce development, multi-ethnic engagement and more as needs grew.
Out of the Community Response Team came Gwinnett Cares, spearheaded by Paige Havens and Heather Loveridge. Gwinnettcares.org became the central location for our community to get help and provide help during COVID-19 and beyond and the hub for all of the community response teams.
“It [Gwinnett Cares] turned into far more than any of us thought it would. There have been so many connections made. We now have close to 150 organizations from all across our community, from all sectors, all places of influence – really from people who just want to collaborate and have a heart and care about our community.” Scott Mawdesley, CFNEG board member
Coronavirus Relief Fund
The original goal was to raise $300,000 to help our food banks/nonprofits have enough funds for four weeks. We quickly met that goal and also realized the pandemic would be around for months, not weeks, and upped the goal to $500,000, then to $1 million. To date we’ve raised over $1.5 million and granted out more than $1.1 million to more than 47 local nonprofits – JUST from the COVID Relief Fund.
“The Community Foundation’s response was unusually quick. It’s clear that ours was responding in ways that other people didn’t think typical of a community foundation. Very quickly Randy and the board pivoted to raising money because we anticipated needs would be exposed very quickly. Our grants committee was tremendous in what they did to re-tool and refocus the way we approached problems. They quickly identified needs that needed to be addressed, funneled the money to those organizations, and plugged a lot of gaps that would have been devastating had they not been quickly addressed.” Ken Massaroni, CFNEG board member
Streamlining Our Grant Process
As we began raising funds, we quickly realized our nonprofits would need them fast. We decided to turn our normal grants process upside down. Our grants committee, led by Julie Keeton Arnold, reduced our grant application to a simple one page and reinvented the entire process so that grants could be turned in 24 hours or less. They used an invitation-only process and granted money each week out of the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The goal, as a Community Foundation and a “first responder of philanthropy”, was to be “first and fast” so that money from the fund could flow to areas with the most urgent needs.
“North Fulton Community Charities has had a dramatic increase in requests for food and financial assistance since the reality of COVID-19 hit our community. Thanks to the Community Foundation grant, we are able to help keep families in their homes with food on the table during this global pandemic.” Holly York, Executive Director
Meeting Community Needs
In one week, our entire food network flipped their model to drive through so that individuals and families wouldn’t have to leave their car to get food. Our healthcare nonprofits also flipped their models to provide care in the safest ways possible.
When our students moved to digital learning, we realized many of them did not have access to needed technology. Through individuals and businesses donating, and partnering with nonprofits like New Life Technology Group, we helped ensure as many students as possible had computers for school.
And when our nonprofits like the Path Project realized there were technology challenges, they moved from helping students to also training parents, caregivers and family members on how to navigate digital learning.
“We discovered very quickly our families had three major barriers to digital learning. 1. Lack of access to devices. The majority of our kids were doing schoolwork from a smartphone. 2. Lack of access to quality Wi-Fi. 3. Lack of digital literacy. Even if they had devices and the internet, they didn’t know how to access the school system’s platform – or even get on the computer.
“We quickly shifted, reached out to some partners, raised some money and purchased 517 Chromebooks. We reached out to schools and partners and got needed wifi hotspots. Then we met with each family individually and showed them how to use the devices, how to help their kids and more. This empowered the parents of our students in ways we have never seen before.” Jim Hollandsworth, Executive Director of the Path Project, Lawrenceville
As the effects of the pandemic continue to be felt, the Community Foundation continues to care for our communities. We have kept raising funds for our Coronavirus Relief Fund, in order to help our nonprofits finish the COVID-19 fight, and continue to support them in other ways, from providing relevant education opportunities to making important connections and more.
“You [the Community Foundation] were there from day one. When all of this emergency started you were one of the first ones to call us and offer us your support. You created groups that provided us with support and coordination of care, money – everything that we have needed throughout this. So, thank you, thank you, thank you. Those calls that we started having in March, in which we were able to coordinate care with all the other nonprofits, gave us so many resources, like laptops and so much more.” Belisa Urbina, Executive Director of Ser Familia, Acworth
The story continues…
Thousands of people have been helped during the last year. Friends, neighbors, families, children, many people we will never meet – but we know they were touched in some way.
Thousands of hours have been spent in meetings about how to help our community, volunteering with our nonprofits, educating, raising money, deciding how to give that money away well, and so much more. The time investment is mind boggling.
And, though it’s sometimes tempting to stop and congratulate everyone on a job well done, the reality is we still have a long way to go to recover well. In fact, in some ways, the needs are greater as we’re beginning to see the long-term repercussions.
“Our board members at the Community Foundation saw first-hand how our COVID Relief Fund had a huge impact last year in helping those most affected by this pandemic. From food and shelter to education assistance and healthcare, thousands of people in our community were helped to survive. The need is still great, though, and we can continue to make a difference for so many people.”
Dick LoPresti, board chair
So, here’s to continuing to care for our community through COVID and beyond. Together, we can do so much good!