COVID-19 Relief Fund Helps Arkansans (Heather Larkin Commentary)

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On March 18 when the Arkansas Community Foundation activated the COVID-19 Relief Fund, new phrases were just becoming familiar — like “flatten the curve” and “social distancing.”

It seems an eternity has passed since that day in March.

This is an Opinion

At the foundation, our work is to build stronger communities and to help donors, businesses and professional advisers year after year fulfill their charitable goals. We have an affiliate network of 28 offices across the state serving all 75 counties to connect donors to nonprofits making a difference. “Relief work” isn’t our norm, but it also isn’t a stranger. When disaster does strike unexpectedly as it forever has and will, we activate a relief fund to get dollars out the door quickly. We did it for Dumas and Mayflower following tornadoes and for folks affected by the 2019 flood.

We’ve always helped by connecting those who have the ability to give with those who are in need. It’s stated in our mission: Engage people, connect resources, build communities. When the intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic strengthened, we acted swiftly and with the same prudence as always. The foundation activated the COVID-19 Relief Fund because this is why we exist — to help Arkansas communities help each other.

The fund efficiently pools together all donations, then makes grants to Arkansas nonprofits. These nonprofits are meeting immediate and increased needs for shelter, food and other critical services at a time when many Arkansans have lost their jobs and need help.

Since activating the fund, the foundation has issued grants to 522 Arkansas nonprofits. After more than 40 years of working with nonprofits in our state, we know that collaboration is key. For example, Support Spa City is a joint effort by the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Hot Springs Area Community Foundation and Cooperative Christian Ministries & Clinic. They are asking citizens to purchase gift cards to help get cash in the hands of local businesses.

Oark School, a tiny Johnson County mountain school, is handing out 400 meals every week along the bus routes delivered by local school bus drivers in their own vehicles. The Johnson County Community Foundation called Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry and asked how they could help. Now 4,000 packages of deer jerky are being delivered by the fire department in Oark.

The Marshallese Education Initiative is using grant funds for translating medical information into Marshallese and disseminating it and food to Marshallese communities. Ouachita Behavioral Health and other mental health providers are using their grants toward a HIPAA-compliant telehealth system so they can provide counseling services online. Several Area Agencies on Aging are supporting senior citizens with home delivery meals and personal care items. Many of the grants to human services organizations are helping families with food, rent/utilities, personal care items, cleaning supplies and sanitizers.

While recognizing that this is a challenging time for the nation and its businesses, we still see abounding generosity. Arkansas is trending with the rest of the nation. Nearly 250 community foundations in all 50 states have collectively mobilized more than $375 million for the pandemic, according to the Community Foundation Public Awareness Initiative. To date, community foundations have publicly announced more than $64 million in grants to local nonprofits.

As of April 15, more than $2.7 million has been contributed to the COVID-19 Relief Fund. The fund serves as a link between those who want to give and those who are in need. Along with the Community Foundation contributions, we’ve received large donations from the Entergy Charitable Foundation, Riggs CAT, the Tyson Family Foundation, the Walmart Foundation, the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, the Windgate Charitable Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. In addition, many individuals have dug deep and given to the fund.

Whether to the COVID-19 Relief Fund or your favorite nonprofit, however you have the means to help, do. Arkansas is a generous state, and we always find ways to help each other — and now, more than ever, help is needed.

Heather Larkin is president and CEO of the Arkansas Community Foundation of Little Rock. All donations made to the COVID-19 Relief Fund will be granted to Arkansas nonprofits working to serve the state’s most vulnerable populations and those disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and its economic fallout.