Final crisis fund grants slated for December

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The Community Crisis Fund plans to award its final grants to nonprofits next month. The fund, which has assisted 174 agencies in the region, will accept applications through Nov. 20.

Established by the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Rochester, the fund has disbursed $6.1 million grants since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic here in late March.

Designed to help the community through the tough early months and into the first phase of recovery, the fund has given monies to nonprofits disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Its goal was to address the economic consequences of the outbreak, organizational recovery and future emergency needs. 

Within the first week of its launch, the fund received commitments of more than $2.3 million. It has continued to grow with donations topping $6.5 million from local foundations, businesses, institutions and individuals.

ESL Federal Credit Union led the charge, contributing grants totaling $2.4 million. The financial institution also included a match to local funders.

“The crisis fund has been a vital lifeline for organizations as we navigate the ongoing pandemic and the difficulties it has created for thousands in our community,” says Faheem Masood, CEO of ESL. “Without this fund and its continued support, many of the essential services provided by nonprofits during these critical times would not be available to our community members in need.”

The fund’s governance committee reviewed applications daily from March through July. As a result, officials say, organizations modified funds or processes or launched new initiatives to address issues in line with their missions. 

Examples include:

■ streamlined grant application and reporting requirements at the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation; 

■ a COVID Education fund to enable access to computers and WiFi hot spots for Rochester City School District students, a charter school and six-high needs districts in Wayne County; and

■ easier ways to give at the beginning of the pandemic through United Way’s volunteer platform Volunteer United. Local funders provided 10,000 meal boxes as well.

The fund entered a new phase in August to support nonprofits’ costs related to reopening or maintaining safe operations and those that serve priority populations or those led by Black, Indigenous and People of Color. By Nov. 15, the Community Crisis Fund had awarded 257 grants.

“One bright spot from the pandemic is the way our community has collaborated on solutions to very new and immediate challenges,” says Jaime Saunders, United Way president and CEO. “This group of dedicated funders and community stakeholders will continue to work together to evaluate and respond to our community’s ever-changing needs.” 

The Nov. 20 deadline will allow the fund’s governance committee to review additional applications and determine how the fund’s remaining dollars will be distributed, officials say. 

If additional funds remain after final grants are awarded, agencies involved in projects providing streamlined services to address the impact of COVID-19 will be invited to apply. 

As the region battles a surge of coronavirus infections, nonprofits could continue to feel the pressure.

“This application deadline does not mean our work is done,” says Simeon Banister, vice president of community programs at RACF and co-chair of the fund’s governance committee. “We are still in the midst of a crisis and the local philanthropic organizations are committed to providing the financial support and advocacy needed to keep our region strong.”

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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