Local COVID Response Fund responds to emerging needs

Emergency fund gathers public donations for Southwest Washington relief efforts

VANCOUVER — Three weeks after launching the SW Washington COVID Response Fund, the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington has raised an additional $1.5 million and granted nearly $1.75 million to area nonprofits addressing the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.

These efforts come as confirmed cases of the disease continue to rise and record-setting job losses spill over into more industries. Local nonprofits are being called on to fill widening gaps in our social safety net and serve those disproportionately affected by this emergency. Timely, flexible financial support is required for these charitable organizations to meet the rising need, and local funders and donors are acting quickly.

The SW Washington COVID Response Fund was created to pool contributions from individuals, businesses and foundations and distribute them to relief efforts across Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania Counties. The Community Foundation spearheaded the effort, because as a nonprofit its mission is to collect and direct charitable dollars toward pressing community needs.

To date, the fund has raised more than $4 million in donations. Relying on the expertise of a diverse grants committee, the Community Foundation has awarded grants to more than 50 organizations according to President Jennifer Rhoads. Early grants have focused on supporting food security, emergency housing support, health and safety equipment, and nonprofit service delivery improvements.

“Economic shifts that typically play out over a month or more are happening in a matter of weeks,” Rhoads said. “We must respond urgently — to provide a bridge of support — for local folks that can’t wait for state and federal resources to feed their families or protect their loved ones.”

Rhoads said that early donors to the fund hope to see contributions multiply in the coming months, because the need is immense. Emergency food networks are already seeing the first wave of need, with the governor’s office estimating that 1.6 million people — double the usual number — will seek food assistance this week.

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust contributed to the SW Washington COVID Response Fund and has made similar gifts to emergency funds across the Pacific Northwest. The private foundation is usually focused on funding capital projects, capacity building and scientific research. Executive Director Steven Moore explained that the trust decided to contribute because of the rising strain on food banks and emergency services, which are waiting on federal funds and supplies.

“We are connecting with leaders across our region to better understand needs and identify how we can provide support in meaningful ways,” said Moore. “We are incredibly grateful to organizations like the community foundation that leverage a deep understanding of community in order to respond with urgency and impact.”

Across the state, dozens of emergency funds have opened to address needs for specific communities, and residents are contributing gifts of all sizes. Bob and Mary Sisson of Vancouver, donated to the SW Washington COVID Response Fund after reading about it in the news. The couple recently sold their local small business and are concerned with the tough decisions facing businesses and residents. 

“We may be retired, but we’re still in close touch with small business owners in Vancouver and across the country,” Mary Sisson said. “We see what they’re facing and feel the pain of workers who have lost jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. That’s why we wanted to help.”

Rhoads believes that challenges such as public health crises require everyone to pitch in, and that individual giving is necessary for an effective philanthropic response.

“We see this as both a sprint and a marathon,” Rhoads said. “Organizations need our support now as they respond to immediate needs. But they will also need us as our region works to recover, and that will take a collective effort from caring people.”

The fund is open to donations from the public. All gifts are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Those interested in learning more can visit cfsww.org/covid19.   

List of funding partners

Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, Corwin Family Fund, Cowlitz Education and Arts Fund, Leslie Durst, Firstenburg Foundation, Goodwin Family Charitable Fund, Hansen Family Fund, Hatton GIBO Charitable Fund, Lee and Connie Kearney, Lematta Family, Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, David and Patricia Nierenberg, Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund,  Joe Pauletto Jr. Charitable Fund, Perigee Fund, Southwest Washington Accountable Community of Health, Wells Fargo Bank, Umpqua Bank and many other generous contributors.

About the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington

Established in 1984, the Community Foundation helps local residents build a more vibrant community by inspiring investments in local philanthropy. The Foundation holds more than 360 distinct funds, which are actively invested to grow charitable assets. Governed by an esteemed volunteer Board of Directors, the Community Foundation offers benefits and services to donors, nonprofits and the community at large. Learn more at www.cfsww.org

Information provided by the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington.

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