By Brian Fogle, President & CEO

Sharing more love, more hope in the COVID-19 era

One of my favorite quotes is from Abigail Van Buren — “Dear Abby” to most of us:

“The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

I think that is the measure of a community and society as well. This COVID-19 emergency has caused many things … Zoom mastery, take-out reliance, a recession and, also, a magnification of economic fissures that already existed. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen unemployment climb by 22 million fellow Americans out of work now, and the end is not yet in sight. Homeless shelters have closed due to “stay at home” orders, and our senior centers have also closed for health reasons. This pandemic is very hard on everyone, but especially so for our vulnerable populations.

I am very proud of how the Community Foundation of the Ozarks has responded to this emergency. Because of our past experiences with natural disasters such as tornados and floods, we had a playbook to address such events. This one, however, is unlike anything any of us have seen before. We were able to borrow from some of that expertise, fortunately. We know there are current needs that need to be met. The needs of those “who cannot fight back” are first and foremost.

We opened our COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund on Monday, March 16, and by the following Friday, we announced a $1 million commitment thanks to our fantastic partners Missouri Foundation for Health and the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation managed by Commerce Trust Company. Since that original commitment, we’ve received another $300,000 in gifts and commitments to join us in our efforts. We’re going to need it. As I write this, we have already received $4.5 million in requests from more than 200 submitted applications.

Our first grants from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund went out April 3, with more being made each week to help address the needs of those most vulnerable during this emergency. In addition to the more than $252,000 in grants made from our COVID-19 fund thus far, we’ve granted an additional $753,000 from affiliate and donor advisor funds to address the impacts caused by the pandemic. We worked with the finalists for the annual Coover Regional Grants, our largest grantmaking program for rural communities, to reprioritize their requests and ultimately awarded $188,000 to support COVID-related needs. And we’ve issued nearly $40,000 in employee benevolence grants to help workers who have been affected by the pandemic. All told, we’ve granted more than $1.23 million for COVID-19 response. It’s a significant number that will continue to grow.

Besides our grantmaking role, we have also engaged in the leadership and collaborative work important to our mission. I have been meeting daily with our neighbors and friends on “Philanthropy Row” here in Springfield, United Way of the Ozarks and Community Partnership of the Ozarks. Jointly, we’ve set up an easy way for our nonprofits to share their immediate needs online that both everyday donors and major funders can access to assist in their own response efforts. We also have a collection of online resources for nonprofits that can help them during these challenging times. Our three organizations have also worked to convene churches and faith groups in the greater Springfield area to discuss how, together, they can help us meet community needs. We serve on the local COAD — Community Organizations Active in Disaster — and are facilitating meetings with private foundations, corporate funders and other donors to share the needs of our nonprofit sector.

Although it seems like a very long time ago it was announced, we are only a few weeks into the stay-at-home order in our community, and a few days into the statewide mandate. This emergency will have impacts long after our doors can be opened once more. We promise this — we are here now to help those who can’t fight back, and we will be here a year from now and long afterward. We are fortunate to have a community and region whose leaders care deeply, who know the benefit of working together, and want the best for all of us. We’ll get through this better than most because of it.

In the meantime, I’ll close with another quote from Ms. Van Buren:

“Fear less, hope more. Eat less, chew more. Talk less, say more. Hate less, love more.”

Be safe, be well, and be kind.

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