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In the Know column: The long road to recovery

Nonprofits have been crucial to delivering food and providing assistance to people hurt by the pandemic. The generosity of donors and COVID-19 grants has made this work possible.

InThe Know food.jpg
Volunteers with the Osakis Hunger Coalition and others put together food items for the United Way's Backpack Attack program this past January at Osakis Public Schools. (Contributed photo)

By Jen Jabas, director of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties

Over the past year, our community has come together and responded to support the needs of our coworkers, friends, family, neighbors, and those we do not know. It has been amazing to see the strength of a community who joins hands to lift up one another. The support of local businesses and nonprofits in our area has been essential to the sustainability of jobs and programs that offer services for individuals and families.

Nonprofits have been crucial to delivering food and providing assistance to people hurt by the pandemic. The generosity of donors and COVID-19 grants has made this work possible. Even so, many nonprofits providing social services had to scale back their work because of reduced funding. PPP loans have made a difference but nonprofits continue to face challenging budgets while there are increased demands for services. These agencies have a significant impact on our community.

Here are a few examples from nonprofits who have received United Way grants and the difference they have made in the lives of local people:

A mental health story
“A woman who was self-employed reported significant decrease in income due to the COVID crisis. Prior to the pandemic she had been attending therapy and was able to self-pay for services. The United Way grant was able to assist her in continuing her therapy services through the pandemic until she could resume work at her historical pace.”


An education story
“A single mom was able to make ends meet and pay her child's preschool fees for the first three months of school until her work hours were reduced, due to a company-wide lay-off instigated by the pandemic. At that time, she needed tuition assistance for her child to continue with programming that would prepare him for Kindergarten. With a fee reduction, she was able to re-balance her budget and keep her child in programming while meeting her other financial obligations.”

A financial stability story
“A household of two parents, one toddler and a baby on the way, found both of themselves unemployed due to COVID-19 and then lost their housing. They became homeless. As a result of United Way funding, we were able to secure housing and a safe place to bring their newborn home to. They have proceeded to search for new employment since being housed and focus on the well-being of their family.”

These stories demonstrate the impact that has been possible through the strength of a community.

In the first part of April, United Way will review grant applications from local agencies who have applied for funding in the areas of health, education and financial stability. Grant review panels will hear about amazing work like the stories above and help to make funding recommendations to determine grant awards. Each year requests exceed the funding available and programming is dependent on these grants to address the greatest need of the people who live in Douglas and Pope counties.

At monthly Community Impact Coalition meetings facilitated by United Way, nonprofits share about what they observe to be the greatest needs in our community. According to those in attendance at our last meeting, the following greatest needs identified were mental health, housing, finances/budgeting, employment, educational supports, and basic needs (food, safety, etc.). Through resource and idea sharing, nonprofits work in partnership to collectively address these challenges and reimagine new ways to reduce barriers, increase access, and provide services.

As a result of the pandemic we are all navigating a new world filled with online platforms and virtual meetings and we have quickly adapted to maintain connectedness with each other. We have experienced challenges together and celebrated successes that have built relationships and promoted collaboration. We have been humbled by the generosity of community members who provided support in the absence of fundraisers that have been cancelled and changes to income that reduced fundraising campaigns. Through local donations, grant opportunities, and virtual events, nonprofits will continue to seek funding to ensure service delivery and sustainability. Please keep your local nonprofits in mind when looking for ways that you can make a difference!

We are committed to rebuilding our community and know that we can do it together. Nonprofits in our area are determined to respond to the changing needs as we continue on our road to recovery. We are taking steps every day and we are on our way – but we’ve still got work to do!

Jen Jabas is the director of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties. “In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

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