Four weeks ago, CoMoHelps.org launched as a resource hub for giving and seeking aid during the pandemic. In that time the website has raised an estimated $400,000, according to John Baker, executive director of the Community Foundation of Central Missouri.
Baker also said the partners involved in the website distributed around $600,000 to nonprofits and organizations that applied for aid through CoMoHelps.org.
Originally, the website brought together Columbia, Boone County, the Heart of Missouri United Way and the Community Foundation of Central Missouri as collaborators, Baker said. Along the way, Veterans United Foundation and the Boone County Children’s Services Fund joined in.
Every morning, representatives from each of the groups go through applications for assistance that have been submitted through the website. From there, the groups decide whether to move forward with the funding process based on the urgency of the needs.
Andrew Grabau, executive director of Heart of Missouri United Way, said out of the 42 applications received through the website, 31 grants have been funded as of Friday.
Grabau said though the CoMoHelps.org funding process emphasizes quickness, the team of funders is deliberate and thorough in its decision making.
“It’s been functioning very, very well,” Baker said. “The parties that come together every morning — we have not worked like this before together. We’re functioning respectably and collaboratively with similar visions.”
Essentials like food, shelter and sanitation have high priority in the considered applications, Baker said. Other high-priority needs include IT equipment, issues related to homelessness and housing insecurity, animal care for local shelters and supplies for babies such as formula and diapers.
The United Way 2-1-1 line is posted on the website for individuals to seek aid. This line has seen a nearly 100% increase in callers compared to March and April 2019, Grabau said.
Over the course of a month, around 300 people in Boone County have called the line, Grabau said. The majority of the calls regarded housing, utilities and food needs, he said.
With the two functions of funding nonprofits and directing individuals to nonprofits that can aid them, Grabau said the website creates a loop of funding and resources for pandemic relief.
Where funding goes
One nonprofit receiving assistance through comhelps.org is the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia. They received $12,000 to fund their curbside meal pickup program, which distributes over 250 dinners and 250 snacks every day, said Valorie Livingston, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia.
With people experiencing economic hardship like layoffs and furloughs during the pandemic, many nonprofits are struggling to operate on reduced donations from the community. Thus, the funding through CoMoHelps is important to make up for low donations, Livingston said.
“Our fundraising event that we had at the end of March only raised about half of the funds that we need,” Livingston said. “We’re very concerned that donors can’t give what they would typically give due to the COVID-19 epidemic.”
Livingston said the speed of the application process was critical because the Boys & Girls Clubs have daily meal costs.
“It was a grant application process, but it was very streamlined and efficient,” Livingston said. “There was a fast turnaround time from when we submitted it to when we were contacted and awarded the funding.”
The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri has also applied and received aid through the website. Seth Wolfmeyer, the communication and marketing coordinator for the food bank, said that larger corporate donations and funding are now especially important.
“There’s a strain on supply lines nationwide, and the food bank usually relies on donations as well as purchasing food,” Wolfmeyer said. “Because there’s less food around, there’s fewer donations and we have to purchase more food than usual.”
Job Point is a corporation that trains people to find and maintain a job, said Steve Smith, president and CEO of Job Point. It has received funding for laptops and Chromebooks to shift to virtual trainings during the pandemic.
Smith said CoMoHelps.org was created and implemented very quickly.
“They’re getting the funds in circulation so that they can provide help as quickly as possible,” Smith said. “To me, that’s yet another example of the flexibility and ingenuity of folks in Columbia.”
Baker emphasized that donations from the public are still needed because requests of higher dollar values are coming in.
“We’re now at a point where people who’ve been laid off from work are really facing fiscal challenges to pay their bills,” Baker said. “Nonprofits are being tapped for their various resources of help.”