NHREG Elementary

NRHEG Elementary School was one of 12 nonprofits located within Steele County to receive a COVID-19 relief grant from the United Way of Steele County. The money the school district received will be helped to pay off lunch balances that have been looming over the heads of families since spring. Pictured are cafeteria staff Jolene Viktora, Lonna Broitzman, Tammy Beenken, and Elementary Principal Doug Anderson. (Submitted photo)

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to make Steele County’s vulnerable population even more vulnerable, help has arrived in the form of grant checks to the local agencies that provide crucial human services.

At the end of September, 12 nonprofits located within Steele County were awarded funding through the United Way of Steele Count COVID Relief Grants program. The funding was made possible through a $20,000 grant awarded to UWSC through the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Council of Foundations for the purpose of assisting local nonprofits with COVID-19 related challenges.

“The number one concern we saw through the application process was that our nonprofits were unable to hold their fundraisers,” said UWSC President Annette Duncan. “Without those events, they didn’t have the funds to operate and provide their services to the community.”

Funding was awarded to Bethel Church, Children’s Remedial Fund of Steele County, Cultural Diversity Network of Owatonna, Exchange Club Center for Family Unity, Healthy Seniors of Steele County, Hospitality House of Owatonna Inc., Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, Medford School District, NHREG Elementary School District, Owatonna Youth Scholarship, The Blooming Prairie Youth Club, and Trinity Lutheran Church. The 12 recipients represent every application UWSC received for the grant program, with Duncan saying how pleased they were to be able to award funding for every agency seeking assistance.

“In situations that needed more than we could fund, we were directing them to other resources that could and providing technical support with the CARES Act funding the county has for nonprofit support,” Duncan said, noting the $1.1 million of Steele County’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars that were allocated to help nonprofits through grants of up to $10,000. “Some of the items these agencies needed we were also able to connect with Shields of Steele for those [personal protective equipment], too.”

The UWSC grants were up to $2,000, though not all 12 applicants requested that full amount.

Duncan said help with marketing was another common theme seen in the applications, as agencies have had to pivot towards a different way of providing their services to accommodate for the pandemic.

One of the more unique requests came from New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva Public Schools, where families still had unpaid lunch balances looming over their heads from the spring. Duncan said it was an easy decision for the Emergency Fund Taskforce that assisted in the grant program process to direct dollars toward that cause. The taskforce comprises of UWSC board members and volunteers.

“That’s how the United Way operates – if it wasn’t for our board members and volunteers we wouldn’t be able to do all the work we do,” Duncan said. “Everyone has been really pleased with this outcome and that we were able to help these agencies move their missions forward.”

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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