Janice Black was in a unique position to recognize the scope of the COVID-19 crisis—and to do something about it.
The 25-year president and CEO of The Foundation for Enhancing Communities (TFEC) also has a background in healthcare and nursing.
“When I realized the depth this virus was going to have, I knew we would be in trouble, and I immediately in early-to-mid March realized we needed to do something quickly,” said Black (pictured). “We needed to start thinking about the ultimate effects on nonprofits.”
She approached Tim Fatzinger, president and CEO of United Way of the Capital Region and proposed a powerhouse of a partnership. The two organizations quickly came together to pool resources, secure corporate as well as individual donations, and offer area nonprofits an emergency grant program.
To date, their COVID-19 Community Response Fund has awarded $127,000 in grants to 54 nonprofits in five counties (Cumberland, Dauphin, Lebanon, Perry and York).
Two rounds of grants have been awarded; a third round is expected in about a week. Nonprofits can request up to $2,500.
Black said three major trends are emerging in grant requests.
Many nonprofits are trying to offset food insecurity; others need to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and cleaning supplies; and still other nonprofits need funding to provide job skills to adapt their services amid the COVID-19 landscape.
“The way I look at these funds is that they’re helping to close the gaps because of COVID-19’s unexpected administrative costs beyond the scope of their regular needs,” Fatzinger said. “Some are using technology creatively, creating virtual environments.”
One of the grant recipients is Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Harrisburg Area. Their $2,500 award is being used to purchase cleaning supplies, PPE items such as masks and gloves, and plexiglass barriers for the nonprofit’s retail store (ReStore).
“Going forward in the future, I think we’re going to see a lot more folks experiencing housing insecurity, so we’re expecting increased asks for home repair services, and extra traffic at the ReStore because people will be in need of items for their homes on a budget,” said Lyndsey Sturkey, Habitat’s executive director.
The nonprofit had three home repair projects underway, with three more in the pipeline, when the pandemic struck. Sturkey is optimistic that work can resume soon. The ReStore is currently open to customers and donors.
The LGBT Center of Central PA, located in Harrisburg, has been operating virtually since mid-March. A $1,000 grant from the COVID-19 Community Response Fund is underwriting general operating expenses.
“We’re seeing mental health as well as economic impacts,” said Amanda Arbour, executive director. “Within the LGBTQ population there are higher mental health needs such as suicidality due to social isolation in two specific sub-groups—youth isolated at home and older adults vulnerable to the virus.”
Her organization created a mutual aid network on Slack where people can post their needs—such as someone to pick up their medication or groceries—while others can post their availability to help.
At Diakon Permanency Services for the Capital Region, a $2,500 grant is allowing children’s foster and adoptive services to creatively continue online via Zoom. The platform is allowing training of foster parents to continue, as well as communication between birth parents and children, communication between separated siblings and court hearings.
“We have been pleasantly surprised by utilizing this new format,” said Kimberly James, director of Diakon’s Permanency Services.
“On a typical orientation night to learn about being foster families, we might normally have four or five families in person. During the past couple months via Zoom, that number has not gone down at all—in fact, one evening we had 30 families on Zoom and we were blown away.”
She actually credits the COVID-19 crisis with reenergizing families’ interest in fostering.
“I think it’s a combination of people having a little more time to follow their dreams of becoming foster families and taking the time now to invest in the process,” James said.
The nonprofit is currently overseeing the cases of 80 children in foster care. But she expects that number, sadly, to rise.
“One of the things we are sadly anticipating, as we move through the phases and more counties move to green, is that people and families will have more contact. We anticipate the number of reports to area children and youth services will increase, which will mean more referrals to us and higher placements in foster care,” said James.
Many nonprofits, Fatzinger noted, are facing financial hardships due to the forced cancellations of major annual fundraisers, and he predicts long-term impacts.
“During the 2007-08 recession, within a two-year period, charitable giving dropped 20%, and it took eight years for the charity sector to recover fiscally,” Fatzinger said.
He encourages people to make donations of any size if they can.
“The ask I make is on behalf of people in need,” Fatzinger said. “Significant mid- and long-term needs will come out of this. Some people are getting rent assistance, but those payments will come up. The same with utilities, and unemployment checks will be running out. This is far from being over.”
Major donors include The Hershey Company, Highmark Health and private donors, but Fatzinger said many individual donations of $5 each are quickly adding up, as well.
Black draws upon her background in healthcare to put the COVID-19 crisis in perspective.
“I never have experienced anything like this, even with outbreak of AIDS working at Georgetown University Hospital,” Black said. “When I think of COVID-19 and the effect it’s having… there isn’t a quick fix—it’s going to be ongoing until we have a vaccine, and the community needs to rally together and work together.”
Ongoing community-wide health and safety efforts are vital, she said.
“I want to stress that people need to be ready for more,” Black said. We cannot let our guard down. We need to maintain cleanliness and the physical safety of ourselves and others by wearing masks. I guess that’s the nurse coming out in me.”
Donations to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund can be made at tfec.org/covid19. Individual donors can also text “TFEC” to 56512 to receive a link to donate. Nonprofit organizations based in Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lebanon, Perry and Northern York Counties are invited to apply for assistance through the fund at tfec.org/covid19resources. For more information, see tfec.org and uwcr.org.