United Way Community Crisis Fund awards 2nd round of grants to 69 groups totaling $388,317

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Smithfield Backpack Buddies volunteers devote several hours each week to fighting hunger in the community. Photo by United Way of Central Alabama

Earlier this week, the United Way of Central Alabama announced that they awarded the second round of United Way Community Crisis Fund grants. For the month of May, sixty-nine nonprofit organizations and agencies will receive $388,317 in United Way’s five-county service area.

Established in mid-March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Community Crisis Fund has been a lifeline for organizations that provide direct assistance, such as food and emergency financial assistance. Funding also supports distressed local nonprofit agencies serving the critical needs of people negatively impacted by COVID-19.

“United Way is really pleased to be able to make these grants that are going to meet people’s basic needs like food, medicine, and utility expenses in the face of this crisis,” said Sara Newell, Senior Vice President of Community Impact for United Way. 

“As we look to the future, we are really concerned about being able to stabilize agencies that provide services that people depend on—everything from food distribution to taking care of people with disabilities, to literacy services and educational programs. We need everyone who is lucky enough to have a job right now to give if they can because so many of our neighbors are not in a position to help anymore.”

The power of the Community Crisis grants: Smithfield Backpack Buddies 

Need an example of one of the grantees? Meet the Smithfield Backpack Buddies.

When many families are struggling financially and unable to afford food, Smithfield Backpack Buddies is doing everything it can to prevent hunger in Birmingham.

Led by Dr. Belita Webb and St. James A.M.E. Pastor Reverend Brian Blackwell, over the past four years, they have accumulated 22 volunteers who serve at different times, including AT&T Pioneers, members of St. Paul AME Church, and residents of the Smithfield community.

Backpack Buddies went into local schools, including Tuggle Elementary, Wilkerson Middle, and Parker High School.. Each participating school receives 20 bags of food per week for students in need. School counselors help identify where the food can do the most good.To keep the distributions confidential, counselors put the food in students’ backpacks without others knowing.

The Grant

Volunteers stuffing food bags to distribute to families in need. Photo from United Way of Central Alabama

After receiving a grant from the United Way Community Crisis Fund, Backpack Buddies has been able to give away adult bags as well. Those bags include chicken, fish, pork, cheese, nuts, macaroni and cheese, rice and more. Each adult bag has enough food for 2-3 full meals. 

Since COVID-19, Backpack Buddies helps, on average, 200 children and 90 families each month through its drive-through service. The program is not limited to residents of Smithfield—it’s open to anyone in need with children under 18.

When speaking with Dr. Belita Webb about the program, she beamed with pride and exuded true passion. Webb said, “As a retired educator, I know what it’s like to know kids who don’t have food to eat.” As she continued to talk about all Backpack Buddies is doing, she said, 

“The program isn’t mine, but it’s in my heart.” 

United Way of Central Alabama’s Drew Langloh announced the establishment of the United Way Community Crisis Fund to address the COVID-19 outbreak on March 20, 2020. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Smithfield Backpack Buddies is just one of dozens of community organizations able to maximize their impact in the community during the coronavirus pandemic due to grants from United Way of Central Alabama’s Community Crisis Fund. 

For additional information on how to apply for funds, visit www.uwca.org/nonprofit-resources. To donate, visit www.uwca.org/COVID19/

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  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.