Winding Down the Emergency Response Fund

Now that the vaccinated among us have begun to remove our masks, it’s time to update the community as we enter the final phase of the Door County Emergency Response Fund.  As you may recall, The Board of Directors of the Door County Community Foundation activated the Emergency Response on March 19, 2020.  Working in partnership with United Way, this Fund was our community’s coordinated philanthropic response to COVID-19 and resulting economic crisis. 

The initial contributions to the Emergency Response Fund were entirely local.  It began with a gift from the Community Foundation itself along with local year ‘round residents whose jobs remained secure.  Then donations started to arrive from across the nation as seasonal residents sent gifts to help those who were unemployed in the place they love.  Nearly 70% of the $1.2 million donated to the Emergency Response Fund and other response efforts at the Community Foundation have come from people who live in Door County only part of the year.

While $1.2 million is a modest number in the grand scheme of philanthropy, on a per capita basis, it appears that the generosity of the people who love Door County has made ours the most generous response effort in Wisconsin. 

A joint Community Foundation-United Way Task Force established three priorities for the Emergency Response Fund.  First, our goal was to provide support for organizations offering immediate relief and assistance to people who were struggling during the stay-at-home order.  That work ended in June of 2020. 

The second priority was, and continues to be, to provide support for organizations helping people in who continue to struggle as the national recession threatens their family’s economic security.  Remember, during the summer of 2020, unemployment in Door County was double what it was during the summer of 2019. 

As challenging as it was for working families last summer, our single greatest concern was the looming 2020-2021 off-season.  For those at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, jobs become scarce during the cold months.  If a family doesn’t make their usual summer wages during the busy season, their ability to survive through the winter would be severely compromised.  Hence, the Community Foundation and the United Way placed great focus on creating initiatives to address two very basic needs:  food and shelter. 

For food, we brought the 8 food pantries together to form the Door County Food Pantry Coalition (www.FeedDoorCounty.org).  For shelter, we created a new Door County Rental Assistance Program (www.RentReliefDoorCounty.org) and internally prepared ourselves to make a significant investment in rent relief.  Thus we launched these new programs and waited for the substantial demand on our resources to begin. 

While the economic crisis continued during the off-season – people were struggling mightily –we didn’t anticipate the massive federal response.  Instead of Door County having to bear the burden alone, federal and state money became the primary sources of rental assistance.  As a result, instead of being the sole funding source, the Emergency Response Fund was primarily used to fill the gaps when a particular family didn’t meet the rigid federal and state criteria.  Functionally, this meant that the Emergency Response Fund never needed to invest more than $70,000 into rent relief when we anticipated spending several times more.

The shifting of the cost of rental assistance to government funding has left us the resources to attend to the third priority of the Emergency Response Fund: providing support for the non-profit organizations themselves, whose long-term viability is threatened by the economic crisis in Door County.

“Our first two priorities were focused on helping people who are struggling during this health and economic crisis,” says my colleague, Amy Kohnle, Executive Director of the United Way.  “While that work will continue, our third priority is to look at the health of the non-profit organizations themselves.”

Arts organizations and environmental groups are major economic engines for Door County, bringing tourists here and creating jobs for our residents.  Historical societies and other kinds of charities are important to our quality of life.  While the primary focus of the Emergency Response Fund remains helping those families who are facing tough times, we also want to ensure that Door County’s most important charitable organizations survive this crisis as well.

If you’re an arts organization, environmental group, historical society, or other kind of non-profit that incurred significant expenses related to COVID-19, you are invited to join human service charities in seeking assistance from the Emergency Response Fund.  To apply, or for a complete listing of grants awarded, visit www.RespondDoorCounty.org.

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