Spring is grants season at Rice County Area United Way. While we wait for 2021 grant applications to come in, I want to share with you some of the updates we recently received from last year’s 28 grant recipients, who shared $240,000 in grants. Their reports vividly show how donations to Rice County Area United Way are at work helping our community get through this pandemic year (and doing so much more as well). Food access, in particular, has been a huge area of focus.

Community Action Center of Northfield recently expanded its food access services to Faribault after one of Faribault’s two food shelves closed its doors. “We recently surpassed 1 million pounds of food from July through December,” they report. “In Faribault, CAC has recently crossed the 10,000 household mark. CAC has provided multiple years’ worth of financial support during this grant period to combat the impact of COVID-19 on low income families (surpassing $300k to date for just rent and utility assistance). We are scaling every system, all at once, while ensuring every family has access to basic needs.”

Pre-pandemic, the all-volunteer Society of St. Vincent de Paul provided food to about 250 families each month. They report, “During COVID, we have increased the number of food distribution days and the number of families requesting our services has been increasing weekly. In December we served about 500 families. The total families have been increasing by 25 to 30 each month.”

At HOPE Center, “Safety has taken on a whole new dimension. The pandemic shifted everything… and yet… we show up, we answer the phone, we respond with competence and compassion… these things have not changed. How we do the work has changed, figuring out … how to best help clients who are trapped even more than normal with their abusers because the pandemic has shifted working from home, school from home… everything suddenly shifts to home – which means that when home is not safe – life is not safe. So that is why our services are needed now more than ever.”

Faribault Youth Investment reports, “Due to COVID-19, efforts pivoted to addressing food access in Faribault. From April through mid-December, key FYI staff were involved in developing and sustaining a mobile food distribution program. With the project now transitioned to the Community Action Center, FYI staff have returned to focusing on youth engagement and Cradle to Career goals.”

Growing Up Healthy “has deepened its focus on helping to meet basic needs of families through supporting neighborhood-based food access work and helping convene partners to address food insecurity … We worked alongside community partners to distribute more than 140,000 pounds of food to families in need through neighborhood-based food distribution events or door drops to individual families in need.”

Since July HealthFinders Collaborative provided “300 COVID tests and associated at-home monitoring. We never closed due to COVID; we implemented virtual clinic visits to increase to over half of visits being seen virtually. Almost 25 percent of HFC’s non-dental activities take place at community-based locations or via phone or virtually, an all-time high. Community Health Workers supported a pivot to proactive COVID monitoring at a distance, and had all-time high numbers of appointments. Mental/Behavioral health grew to all-time highs, pivoting seamlessly to virtual modalities.”

In 2020 Ruth’s House “provided over 7,000 nights of safe shelter, food, basic needs, and supportive programming for 16 women and 23 children. We are staffed 24 hours daily, 7 days weekly, 365 days yearly.” They previously reported an increased need in this congregate living situation to provide their families with essential supplies and food, and increased staff workload including cleaning and disinfecting more often, and preparing and delivering food, medications and supplies to individuals/families who need to quarantine.

Three Rivers Community Action’s home-delivered meal program for seniors and shut-ins reports: “Goal changes include a significant increase in meals given. We are offering the option of receiving a second meal at the time of hot delivered meals due to food insecurity during COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen an increase of 35% of program participants.”

Northfield Healthy Community Initiative concludes, “The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously had a significant impact on nearly every facet of life. … HCI staff and partners have needed to significantly pivot a great deal of their time/energy to address other emerging challenges, such as food insecurity and technology access. The ability to quickly shift has been a clear strength of the HCI model this grant period – and the flexible resources provided by the Rice County Area United Way have been critical in being able to rapidly meet emerging needs. Thank you.”

It’s humbling to see the determination, flexibility, creativity, and incredibly hard work that local United Way partners have brought to this time of crisis. And it’s inspiring to know that gifts from so many hundreds of Rice County area donors are helping support this essential work.

Donations made now will help support our 2021 grants. We’re nearing our fundraising goal of $400,000, but we’re not there yet. Let’s shatter that goal and see what we can do together. I invite you to donate online at ricecountyunitedway.org – or send your donation to RCAUW, PO Box 56, Northfield, MN 55057. Thank you!

Penny Hillemann is executive director of Rice County Area United Way.

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