The events that 2020 had in store for the world could not have been predicted.

With the recent past being replaced by a new normal, communities struggle with the effects of the global pandemic, families try to meet basic needs and cope with a new educational environment—while nonprofit organizations attempt to keep up with the growing need for their services. Times like these prompt heroic efforts from those ready to support the community in any way possible 

As an initial reaction to the anticipated needs that local organizations would require, The Community Foundation established the Mohawk Valley COVID-19 Response Fund with the United Way of the Mohawk Valley, directing funding and donations to nonprofits providing critical pandemic-impact-related resources. The response from those who wanted to help was immediate. Within the first week, the joint fund attracted nearly $270,000, which was quickly distributed where it could do the most good.

Residents, businesses, corporate contributors, and many Community Foundation fundholders stepped up. Overall, support to the fund helped award more than $1 million to over 60 organizations, making an impact on thousands of residents of Herkimer and Oneida counties. The grants helped to feed families, secure essential medical equipment and supplies, meet basic needs—and more.

In total, donor-advised funds committed more than $390,000 to this effort. In addition, donor-advised fundholders awarded 85 grants exceeding $761,000 directly to nonprofits for emergency needs, general support, and food security.

It was encouraging to see the creative ways fundholders supported relief efforts. The Rising Phoenix Fund, established in 2019 to aid recovery efforts for natural disasters, launched a matching employee gift program. The campaign surpassed its goal of $7,500 in employee donations which could be made to a charity of the employee’s choice anywhere in the country. In total, Rising Phoenix Holdings Corporation (RPHC) donated more than $29,000 through matching contributions and direct donations to support COVID-19 relief.

“Since Rising Phoenix Holdings Corporation was founded 35 years ago, our priority has always been helping local communities benefit from our success, and that focus will continue,” said Ron Cuccaro, executive chairman of RPHC and Community Foundation fundholder and trustee. “This matching gift program just seemed like the perfect thing to do at a time when it was needed the most. It gave our employees the opportunity to support charities that are important to them, and I am so impressed and proud at how they rose to the challenge.”

Utica National Insurance Group used its fund—the Utica National Insurance Group Foundation Fund—to address food insecurity in Herkimer and Oneida counties. The fund has always focused on addressing the community’s greatest needs, and with food insecurity a growing challenge fueled by increasing family need, the fund advisors reached out to Community Foundation staff to see how they could help. After researching and assessing the needs of local food pantries and soup kitchens, staff and fund advisors implemented a food security program that awarded more than $300,000 to organizations providing nourishment to families in need. The funding’s impact was wide-ranging, from providing individual meals from local restaurants to soup kitchens for distribution to restocking food pantries’ shelves with essential items.

“During these difficult times, helping to minimize the food insecurity in our communities and helping local restaurants weather the storm is vital,” said Bernard Turi, chair of the fund’s screening committee and Utica National’s senior vice president, general counsel, general auditor, and chief risk officer. “We appreciate all that the nonprofit organizations do on a daily basis for everyone, and this is our way of giving back to them.”

Hero Fund America Fund (HFA), a field-of-interest fund of The Community Foundation that supports fire, emergency medical services (EMS), and law enforcement agencies in New York and other states, felt it was imperative to assist these frontline organizations that were affected by the global pandemic.

The organization had planned to award three $1,000 grants through its competitive grantmaking this year. When the public health crisis prompted the cancellation of HFA's biggest fundraiser, Run 4 the Hills for First Responders, its board of directors allocated an additional $15,000 from registration fees and donation dollars to award a total of $18,000 this year.

"As the challenging reality of the pandemic gripped our nation, I was reminded of the inspiration behind the formation of Hero Fund America," said Garth Roberts, founder of Hero Fund America and current fund advisor. "Today, with a completely different set of complicated circumstances and unimaginable risk, we are provided once again an opportunity to witness the courage, strength and compassion of first responders. This organization is dedicated to serve these brave heroes.”[KE1] 

In addition to these examples, some donor-advised fundholders were inspired to make their first grant—others, their largest-ever award—to support the overall effort.

“The unity and togetherness that we witnessed from our fundholders and community members during some of the most difficult days we’ve seen was just incredible,” said Alicia Dicks, president/CEO of The Community Foundation. “It’s so special and reassuring to know that our fund partners stand behind us and are willing to help in any way that they can, even during a crisis. There’s much recovery work to be done, but the support from these funds helped organizations keep up with the increasing demand that they experienced.”

During challenging times, focusing on the good things happening in the community is more important than ever. Thanks to generous donors who continue to remember those in need, we have been able to connect their good will to organizations and residents whose future well-being will help realize our vision: A vibrant region with opportunity for all.

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