March 2, 2020 — The widespread nature of the novel coronavirus COVID-10 has closed businesses of all types across America, throwing the lives of families from every walk of life into turmoil. More Americans are out of work now than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s, when 25 percent of the work force was idle. As a result, the inability to provide for basic necessities has had repercussions for not only families and individuals, but for organizations dependent on the financial support of the community to provide needed services.
Fortunately for many of these groups, which are often organized as nonprofits, there is monetary support available from one of the region’s most effective philanthropic organizations, the United Way of Lane County.
The organization, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars already distributed this year, has recognized the unprecedented level of need at this time and established the United Way COVID- 19 Community Response Fund.
Noreen Dunnells, president and CEO of United Way of Lane County, said that the scale and scope of the pandemic required quick action.
“Several weeks ago, as the pandemic expanded to our area, United Way of Lane County developed a survey for nonprofit health and human service agencies in the county to hear about their immediate needs and concern,” Dunnells wrote in an email to Siuslaw News. “Simultaneously, we established the COVID-19 response fund and hosted weekly virtual meetings for continuous communication to learn about emerging needs.”
The fund was established with the specific goal of directly assisting those most financially at-risk due to the pandemic.
United Way of Lane County announced at the end of April it had distributed almost $100,000 from the newly established fund, with four Siuslaw area organizations chosen among those to receive these grants.
“What we know is that basic needs of food, general rental assistance, technology equipment for communication, and general financial assistance are the most pervasive needs here in Lane County, as they are in other parts of the U.S.,” Dunnells said. “We also know that this pandemic has disproportionately impacted people in poverty or those previously struggling to make ends meet, including immigrant families and our unhoused communities.”
Siuslaw Outreach Services (SOS), a primary emergency support agency in the Florence area, is dealing with many families and individuals that are experiencing these extremely difficult times.
“We are so appreciative of the support United Way has provided,” said SOS Executive Director Bob Teter. “These funds will help us to provide the means for those at risk to be sheltered.”
The grants awarded locally provided $1,500 to the Florence Farmers Market to keep the SNAP/Double-Up program available for low income individuals shopping at the market and $2,400 to Florence United Methodist Church, which will be used for Subway restaurant vouchers for low-income and senior residents.
In addition, United Way awarded Helping Hands Coalition $1,000 to provide sack lunches for homeless and low-income individuals in Florence and Siuslaw Outreach Services $2,500 for rental and utilities assistance for unhoused individuals.
“Although Governor Brown has put a 90-day hold on residential eviction and allowed a six-month period to repay, this fund will help those who have been furlough stay current on their rent and utilities,” Teter said. “For many service workers, their rent is 80 to 90 percent of their take-home pay. They may not have the income to pay additional dollars toward their currently monthly rent. This fund will help ensure we do not have a spike in homelessness six months down the road.”
United Way of Lane County realizes the initial grants awarded will not be sufficient to stem the rising tide of need in this area, but “We typically fund community programs in a 2- or 3-year cycle,” Dunnells said. “Given this situation, we have responded quickly with every-other-week application requests, a simple agency review and decision-making process. We’re in the third round of application reviews this week, for distribution next week, and have committed to four rounds of funding. And all contributions to the COVID19 fund will be distributed without a fee for processing.
“We are grateful to live in a community that manifests caring and compassion by responding to community needs with financial support, in-kind donations and volunteerism.”
For more information about United Way of Lane County, visit www.united waylane.org.