An emergency COVID-19 relief fund focused on Berkshire County is pausing its efforts after raising millions for the region’s most vulnerable.
Tim Wilmot is director of strategy, evaluation and learning at the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. He says the fund emerged from the chaos of the pandemic’s early days in March.
“As offices were closed and agencies were challenged with delivering services, a committee of three different foundations – Berkshire Taconic, Berkshire United Way, Northern Berkshire United and Williamstown Community Chest came together and created this fund, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund for Berkshire County to help fund frontline human service organizations with deep roots in the community and strong experience working with vulnerable populations,” said Wilmot.
“Over the last four or five months, we have successfully raised over $2 million from hundreds of different donors – from corporate, individual and foundation donors around Berkshire County to really help out and meet the needs of our most vulnerable residents," said Berkshire United Way President and CEO Candance Winkler. “Of the $2 million that we raised, we distributed that out to about 100 different nonprofits. All of the dollars that were raised – 100% of those dollars – went out to nonprofits that were on the frontline of the recovery effort and were meeting the basic needs of our neighbors. So from food to housing to protective equipment to emergency childcare.”
“The largest one was food," said Wilmot. “41% of the total grant funding went towards dealing with food insecurity and getting meals to people who were shut in or who were unable to secure nutritious food.”
“We had many different food banks that were receiving support because they were having increased requests from individuals and families that needed food," said Winkler. "We also supported organizations like Volunteers In Medicine that also saw increase in need of their services. Programs like 18 Degrees that provide the YMCA that provide emergency childcare service to our frontline employees that were working in grocery stores or hospitals or places like that.”
“Some of the most vulnerable residents were provided products and services for their physical and mental health such as PPE – personal protective equipment – medical and dental treatments," said Wilmot. “Some agencies had experimented with telehealth, connecting over the internet to provide services. And they really exploited that technology. They were able to see many, many more people through telehealth visits to provide nutritional, family, mental health and substance abuse counselling, as well as regular check-ins on wellbeing.”
Resources also went to supporting essential workers and helping them to process the trauma and stress of working on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“At this point in time we have paused our grant making. We feel like we were able to distribute a lot of resources quickly into the community when there was high need. We know that a lot of resources from the state and federal government are starting to flow so we right now are kind of waiting and watching to see what happens," said Winkler. “I think if we continue to see some small improvements in the public health space, there may not be as much of a need for us to do this kind of fundraising again to meet emergency needs. If we feel like we get further into the fall and from a public health perspective business have to shut down and we kind of go back into a scenario where we’re much more isolated, we anticipate having to ramp back up and provide support.”
You can see the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and Berkshire United Way’s report on the COVID-19 emergency relief fund here.