From The North Bay Business Journal: First wildfires and power shut-offs, now North Bay nonprofits face coronavirus economic, fundraising challenges

June 2, 2020 by Jessica Zimmer

As economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic increases, many North Bay nonprofits are meeting their new short-term goals with the help of emergency grants from community foundations, but remain concerned.

Their client lists are growing, while traditional fundraising methods, like spring and summer events, are curtailed or must be modified. The organizations are provide food, as well as mental health assistance and housing subsidies, but must now buy personal protective equipment to engage in activities like food distribution.

“The coronavirus pandemic is truly uncharted territory, not just for our community but for our country. Locally, we are concerned not only about the health issues caused by COVID-19, but also the economic impacts it imposes on those least able to recover economically, seniors, people with compromised immune systems, those facing unemployment and economic challenges, undocumented people, and people without secure housing,” said Elizabeth Brown, president and CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County.

She said many nonprofits are struggling financially because of the pandemic.

“Most nonprofit organizations do not have emergency cash reserves to cover even one month of expenses. The nonprofit community is under incredible strain. They bore so much of the burden in supporting clients through the 2017 and 2019 fires. (They) are now doing the same for people impacted by this disaster,” said Brown.

Susan Cooper is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, which provides low-income Sonoma County residents with referrals to resources as well as financial assistance for rent, food and essential needs. Cooper said requests for food and economic assistance have increased beyond normal levels.

“Redwood Empire Food Bank has been helpful in providing the food we are able to distribute. We have received generous funding from Community Foundation Sonoma County for cash assistance and from United Way for operations which we use for employing the staff needed to get the funds out to those needing it the most. We also have had some private donations,” said Cooper.

Jonathan Logan, vice president for community engagement for the Marin Community Foundation, said his organization is working hard to assist nonprofits on the front lines of the response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our role goes beyond writing checks and making Automated Clearing House transfers. We’re part of a communitywide effort to more broadly support those who need it most,” said Logan.

Alix Salkin, vice president for philanthropic services of Marin Community Foundation, said the organization has provided $2.2 million to Marin-based “safety net” organizations, including the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul Society, West Marin Senior Services, Canal Alliance, Adopt a Family of Marin and other nonprofits.

Between March and early May, the foundation provided $4.8 million to Marin-based and focused organizations.

“Additionally, MCF donors have granted nearly $10 million additional dollars specifically for COVID-19 relief, with nearly $4 million of that for COVID-19 relief to organizations outside of Marin,” said Salkin.

Terence Mulligan, chief executive officer of the Napa Valley Community Foundation, said the foundation has directed more than $450,000 to 16 “second-responder” nonprofits that bolster the social safety net for local families.

“We’ve also given $100,000 to (Napa County Public Health) to enable uninsured residents to be tested for COVID-19. Our biggest grants so far, collectively more than $2.4 million, are to provide emergency financial assistance to low-to-moderate income workers who’ve lost their jobs but don’t qualify for unemployment benefits or federal stimulus payments.”

Many of those were employed in the area’s hard-hit hospitality and services industries, he added.

Organizations have navigated rough waters before, like the 2014 Napa earthquake, the 2017 and 2019 wildfires, and the 2019 flood. With the pandemic-inspired shutdown, some nonprofits are seeing volunteer sign-ups increase. Community foundations report new donors are stepping forward. There has also been more recognition and promotion of digital donation campaigns, which require less time and costs than traditional fundraisers.

What it takes to provide food, shelter and outreach

Catholic Charities is now focusing on “sheltering people, feeding people and making sure they are well,” said Jennielynn Holmes, chief program officer of Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, which serves Sonoma and Napa counties, as well as four other counties in Northern California.

“We saw requests for food aid increase very quickly, within the first week of the shelter-in-place order (in mid-March). The number of calls went up 35%, with some of the clients being first-time callers. We also got a much higher number of requests for rental assistance,” said Holmes.

Holmes said Catholic Charities has also seen a big jump in the number of seniors who need food and a check-in.

“In response, we’ve expanded our I’m Home Alone program in Sonoma County, in which we call isolated seniors on a daily basis to determine their well-being. We’re looking into starting this program in Napa County. We’ve seen an increase in numbers for our Homebound Senior program, which provides food aid to seniors. Due to this, we’ve significantly added to our food distribution. We now do deliveries and offer a drive-thru grocery-box program to make sure seniors have access to food,” said Holmes.

Jenny Ocon, executive director of UpValley Family Centers in Napa, which serves low-income households in Calistoga and St. Helena, said UpValley is providing emergency financial aid, including rent assistance, limited cards for groceries, and assistance with applications for unemployment and other government benefits.

“The clients we serve year-round are low-income households. Many of them are immigrant families who rely on seasonal, low-wage work. Others are seniors living on fixed retirement income. These groups were already economically vulnerable. They’ve been hard-hit by the pandemic, and in particular by the socioeconomic disruption it’s caused. A lot of families have lost their income,” said Ocon.

She said meeting the surge in need for assistance has required re-deploying staff to assist UpValley’s case management team.

“We now have seven full-time and four part-time bilingual staff dedicated to our emergency response effort,” said Ocon.

Omar Carrera, chief executive officer of Canal Alliance, which assists low-income Latino residents in Marin County, said the Alliance has responded to over 1,200 requests from community members for direct financial assistance.

“Our social services team is responding to an unprecedented number of requests for assistance from the community, responding to over 100 calls and voicemails each day since the crisis started. People are calling for support and resources. Our team is helping those who qualify to apply for unemployment benefits or rental assistance funds. Through these calls, our team is learning from the majority that they have lost jobs or wages and are concerned about their ability to pay rent, buy groceries and provide for their family members,” said Carrera.

He said after the Canal Alliance took a one-week break in late March to ensure its pantry was following public health guidelines, it almost doubled the number of families to which it provides food.

“We have gone from serving 280 families before the crisis to more than 500 families each week. We’ve also started delivering food to seniors and other vulnerable community members,” Carrera said.

Paul Ash, executive director of San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, which provides food assistance to low-income residents of Marin County, said he has seen requests for aid rise sharply.

“At the same time, there’s an increase in need for deliveries. Before the pandemic, there was not a delivery system for food boxes in Marin County. We’re now experimenting with partners, including FedEx and volunteers, to get food to seniors, households that lack transportation, and clients who are immune-compromised and are afraid to leave the house. We’ve set up three drive-through pop-up pantries in Marin County. We are distributing 25% more food than we were before the pandemic hit. In addition, in order to ensure safety, we’ve had to buy pre-packaged items like rice and beans rather than separate larger quantities into bags. This has increased our costs,” said Ash.

Anita Maldonado, chief executive officer of Social Advocates for Youth, which provides housing, food aid and more to at-risk youth in Sonoma County, said the organization is now utilizing its teen shelter to provide drop-in support for food, housing and shelter information, and hygiene supplies.

“Our Street Outreach Team is still traveling to youth in need, but now we need to practice social distancing by traveling in multiple vehicles, wear personal protective equipment and follow strict hygiene protocols. We also had to cancel our largest fundraiser, the SAY Soirée, which normally takes place in mid-April. We’re trying to figure out how to make up the difference before the end of our fiscal year in June. Fortunately, SAY’s Board of Directors and Redwood Credit Union are assisting by matching all donations up to $30,000,” said Maldonado.

Improving mental health decreases later costs

Nonprofits are promoting mental wellness among clients to reduce the number of future crises. A responsive, caring approach that involves listening and helping residents solve problems allows nonprofits to be respectful and understand where funds will come to be needed the most.

“One case manager who’s been with Canal Alliance for 20 years through many emergencies, says she’s never experienced a level of panic and fear like she’s hearing from clients now. This crisis is building upon years of elevated trauma, stress and fear in the community due to ongoing attacks on the immigrant community,” said Carrera.

Ocon of UpValley said, “(Since) we run year-round programs that work on these areas, we are continuing to provide referrals to mental health counseling and other wellness resources. (We are) checking in with clients via phone and working with local school districts to make sure kids and parents have what they need to continue learning at home.”

Paul Austin, founder of Play Marin, which typically offers youth sports for children and teens in southern Marin, said he found a way to lift clients’ spirits and help small businesses.

“The pandemic put a halt to all our organized sports. In late March, our board made a decision to shift our efforts to feed upwards of 600 people in need every weekend,” said Austin.

He said Play Marin is now paying over 12 local restaurants, including Avatar’s Restaurant in Sausalito, World Wrapps in Corte Madera and Grilly’s in Mill Valley, to provide over 600 meals every Saturday and Sunday at two locations in Marin City.

“On Sundays, we (also) deliver to seniors and those who are shut-in. We are not only focused on the mission of Play Marin and how it is tailored to children in our program. We have morphed into a communitywide provider of resources,” said Austin.

Community foundations, which often are part of the financial base of support for local nonprofits, are paying attention to how organizations like Play Marin pivot, and are providing financial assistance to help them meet their goals.

“Of the $3.22 million we have given in grants related to COVID-19, 43% has been for financial and rental assistance programs at organizations such as Community Action Partnership. Thirty-four percent has been for health care, housing, and homelessness. Twenty-three percent has been for food,” said Community Foundation Sonoma County CEO Brown.

Some foundations provided funds for personal protective equipment for health care workers.

“(That) has been a key gap from the beginning. One name I’m proud to share is Stefan Blicker, co-owner of Last Bottle Wines. He donated $1 per bottle from an online auction. The result (was about) $30,000 for our COVID-19 fund,” said Mulligan in Napa.

Logan of the Marin Community Foundation said as community foundations assess what nonprofits choose to do, they are seeing “great outpourings of generosity” from key donors, including the provision of PPE, like 100,000 N95 masks. The masks were delivered to Marin County’s Emergency Operations Center with an understanding that they will be provided to local hospitals and urgent care centers based on need.

“Being flexible is an asset. That’s why we have not locked ourselves into rigid and limiting grantmaking criteria. We want to be able to make investments that add value to the situation. The need is huge and evolving,” said Logan.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that UpValley Family Centers has re-deployed staff to assist its case management team.

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