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Drew Langloh, CEO at United Way of Central Alabama, has worked on a number of natural disasters during his professional career, including the tornadoes that ripped through Birmingham and Alabama in 2011.
He has learned from that experience that a community needs to immediately stabilize after a disaster strikes and then build a path toward recovery in the months that follow.
That is exactly what is happening with the United Way Community Crisis Fund. It is responding to community and nonprofit needs and is now transitioning from stabilizing communities to recovery.
Confronting a Crisis Quickly and Head-On
In March, Alabama, the U.S., and the world began to lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the United Way of Central Alabama launched the Community Crisis Fund.
“In March and April, a huge number of people lost their jobs. It was a moment we needed to help,” said Langloh. “Most Alabamians don’t have $300 in their savings account. So, when you lose your job unexpectedly, you are thinking, how do you get food on the table for my family, how can I cover my prescriptions, pay my utilities – mortgage or rent.”
The initial phase of the Community Crisis Fund was all about stabilizing people and organizations doing that kind of work, he added.
“It was heavy in feeding people and providing food and emergency assistance. We are wrapping that phase up.”
Since March, the United Way has given out $664,000 in grants to 90 organizations within the United Way footprint.
Two benefactors of the United Way Community Crisis Fund were the Community Care Development Network and the Jones Valley Teaching Farm.
From 200 to 400 families
Based in East Lake, the Community Care Development Network services range from operating a food pantry to serving seniors and youth in East Birmingham.
Tamika Holmes, the organization’s executive director, described the pandemic’s sudden impact on her group’s work.
“When COVID hit, people were losing jobs. They were getting sick immediately. In fact, my own family was impacted. I have two adult sons, and both were furloughed.”
In one month, Community Care’s family services increased from serving 150-200 families a month to about 400.
“We live in a food desert. Our clientele doubled,” said Holmes.
The Community Crisis Fund enabled the group to make plans, to serve the rush of families in need.
7400 Pounds of Food Donated
Similarly, the Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF) had to pivot quickly to serve its community in the midst of the crisis.
When the schools closed, JVTF quickly transformed from an innovative hands-on teaching farm and classroom to food production farms.
In just a few short months, the groups freely gave away:
- 7400 pounds of produce
- 280 bouquets of flowers
- 310 sunflowers
- 304 pounds of food to high school apprentices and their families
- 3706 seedlings to 30 individuals, community gardeners, and urban farmers
“Community support through the United Way means more than anyone can know. It gives us the lift to keep going.” – Amanda Storey, Executive Director, JVTF
United Way’s Langloh said the fund is now ready to move on to the recovery phase.
“A lot of damage has been done to families and our community. The next phase will focus on the long term on how to get people back on their feet and recover.”
Moving forward, new applications will be accepted in September, with awards announced in December. There will be a longer-term focus, not month-to-month, as the previous phase of grants. Agencies can apply for up to $50,000 to support meeting community needs in:
There are three priorities:
- Basic Needs Assistance
- Mental Health Support
- Workforce Supports for the unemployed
“What we realize, this is going to be a marathon,” explained Langloh. “It is not a few months, and we are done. This is going to run at least until the end of 2021. We are making sure we are providing support in a meaningful way.”
The Community response
United Way’s Community Crisis Fund still needs your support.
“Our community is incredibly generous, but it is also a civically aware community. It proves that statement again and again. When a crisis like this happens, people immediately say, ‘what can I do to help.’ It has been an amazing, generous, and overwhelming response. To be good stewards, we need to start moving into this recovery mentality with these funds, with a little more strategy behind it.”