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Almost exactly eight months after launching its COVID-19 Response Fund meant to support struggling non-profits, healthcare workers, art institutions, and individuals during the pandemic, the Guilford Foundation announced it has paid out almost $140,000 into the community, providing a desperately needed lifeline to more than 20 local organizations and hundreds of families.
With in initial goal of raising $20,000 to provide stop-gap relief until government benefits would kick in, initial donations to the fund quickly rocketed past that number as donors made sure that despite the continued onslaught of the pandemic and fading support from Washington D.C., their neighbors could continue paying bills and receiving important services.
“We’re still in the middle of this crisis, obviously,” Guilford Foundation Executive Director Liza Petra said. “But what I’m particularly thinking about...at the end of the year is how grateful I am to this community to just step up when the need is there.”
About $45,000, or just under 33 percent of the total fund, has been allocated to the Women & Family Life Center (WFLC), which back in April began distributing direct payments of about $500 to families and individuals whose lives had been upended by the pandemic.
Of the remaining $90,000 or so, about $21,000 went directly to organizations that provide educational and child care resources, including the Guilford Center for Children, Clifford Beers, and the Community Nursery School. About $27,000 in disbursements were health-care related, including to Connecticut Hospice and Lifelinx, an addiction recovery program in town.
Around $15,000 went to local art non-profits, including $10,000 to allow the Guilford Art Center to provide a free virtual spring semester. More grants went to local businesses, including $5,000 to support an initiative to purchase gift cards from local restaurants and donate to the Guilford Food Pantry.
Petra said the community’s massive generosity has made all this happen, addressing not just the bare essentials of food and financial need, but ensuring that people had childcare, health care, and opportunities to continue engaging with art and with each other.
“We prioritized basic needs, emergency financial assistance, and food, but we also did want to support those art and cultural organizations that were struggling because we could, because we had met some of those other needs,” she said.
Looking into the new year, with the country beginning to prepare for a vaccine as early as late spring or early summer, Petra said she is not sure exactly where or what kind of funding will be needed to carry the community’s most needy to the point where jobs and wages are returning. The last $10,000 or so of the COVID-19 Fund was paid out this month to the WFLC, in anticipation that many individual families continue to struggle month to month.
But Petra said she and the Guilford Foundation is “cognizant” that another round of fundraising may be necessary early in 2021. Even though there is still a hope there will finally be some more support from the federal government, Petra said she plans to check in with non-profits in the area about more “short-term response.”
“There’s going to be this short-term recovery, which is, ‘Can we get through this until we’re all healthy enough to go back to work and go back to school?’ And then next year we’ll start really digging into long-term recovery,” Petra said.
The hope is that the recent surge in cases won’t have the same effect as the first peak back in April and May, when the foundation was funding grants for personal protective equipment and infrastructure to protect clients and employees at these local organizations, according to Petra.
Instead, Petra says she foresees a continued need to directly support individuals, either through organizations like the food bank and the Community Dining Room in Branford, or with direct payments through the WFLC. She emphasized that giving people agency rather than stipulations with financial aid is always going to be the foundation’s mission.
“When [WFLC] gives them $500, it might go food, it might go to child care, it might go to a car repair,” Petra said. “We don’t need to be telling people what they need to be buying.”
Petra said she is also looking even past the initial recovery and return to normalcy, and has already discussed with the foundation’s board preliminary strategy going all the way through next September, when hopefully the town will begin assessing how to heal the deeper wounds of the pandemic.