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Fairfield County's Community Foundation Launches COVID-19 Resiliency Fund

Ross D. Franklin

The coronavirus pandemic has put more pressure than ever on organizations that help people with the basic needs that many of us take for granted. In southwestern Connecticut, which has been hit particularly hard by the crisis, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation has created a COVID-19 Resiliency Fund

The goal is to quickly raise donations to ease the social and economic impact of the virus on the community. 

Foundation President and CEO Juanita James recently spoke with Morning Edition host Tom Kuser about the fund. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Your foundation has many funds that benefit non-profit groups. What prompted you to start this particular one in this fashion?

Well this is an additional need. We have many funds, but we are always at capacity in terms of our grantmaking capability and what we have available to grant. So our competitive grants donate about $2.5 million a year to local nonprofits. And in addition, we have multiple donor advised funds. So our annual giving to Fairfield County nonprofits is about $20 million. That said, those dollars are already targeted, subscribed, being very well used throughout Fairfield County.

This virus and this pandemic has created such an additional surge in terms of need that our regular contributions and donations can’t meet the need of what the nonprofits are experiencing right now. It is absolutely affecting every part of our community, every aspect of our community. And as you know we’re all encountering something we have never experienced before, either as a county, a state, as a country. 

Has the fundraising been a challenge for you, with social distancing and many people losing jobs and incomes? The stock market doing what it's been doing. I would imagine it can’t be easy.  

It’s not easy, but what we have found is that in time of crisis, those in our donor community, the people who can afford to, step up. And they tend to be as generous as they can be and even more sensitive to the fact that we have people who are in much greater need, who are more dramatically impacted. The people who are most vulnerable even in good times are even more impacted at a crisis like this. So I would say that our donor population, and many, many others, people that we really have not received funding from, for the first time are contributing. We’ve been, I won’t say surprised, but we’ve been very pleased and appreciative of how generous people have been. So for example, we’ve only had this fund for two weeks, and we’ve already been able to raise $1.375 million in donations. 

Right, you launched March 18th I understand.

That’s exactly right. And the fact that we’ve been able to raise that at a time of crisis, at a time when the markets are so unstable, at a time when people are clearly concerned about their own financial stability I think is amazing. And it just shows the generosity and the good will of people and how fortunate we are to be a part of this type of community that is so generous.  

Where are you seeing the most need right now?

Well the good news is how much we’ve raised. The bad news is that we already have over $2 million in requests for these needs. And a very significant part of that is physical and mental health. A very significant, 32% of it is related to housing, homelessness and economic security. 

And when we say economic security, we mean the basics: food, shelter, safety. And another 25% of the needs are coming from education needs as caused by the closing of all our school districts. The challenge to have our students to work remotely. What that means both in terms of their access to the tools and frankly to the teachers’ ability to provide online learning resources for the schools.

Most officials have had a hard time pinpointing when this pandemic might peak. Do you anticipate that the funds may become a long-term project for the foundation as Connecticut works to recover from the aftermath from the pandemic?

Well I think we will keep the fund going as long as people have the capacity and willingness to contribute. And we will continually be updating our communities on what the funding requests are, where the needs are.

In addition to this, we’re also partnering with 4-CT, the Connecticut statewide entity that is also looking to really provide resources, statewide, for these same types of needs. This was really for us, was really a disaster relief fund. It isn’t something that we’re anticipating is a permanent fund. 

We’re hearing from just about every quarter that nothing like this has challenged the American people, in at least the recent past. Have you at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation ever run into this kind of a situation before or is this unprecedented for you as well?

It’s absolutely unprecedented for us. I think no one can imagine the depth, the breadth, how this pandemic has so quickly escalated, how much it’s touching every aspect of our community, our society, our residents. I certainly would never have been able to imagine something like this, and we as a foundation have never encountered like this before. 

For those who can, how can people help support your resiliency fund?

All they have to do is go to our website: FCCFoundation.org. The first thing that will pop up is Resiliency Fund, and whether you are someone looking to make a contribution, to make a donation to the fund, or you’re someone who’s looking to get resources from the fund, that website will put you in the right direction.   

Ms. James, thanks for taking time to speak with us today. I really appreciate it. 

Well I really appreciate you getting the word out about what we’re doing, how to help and all you’re doing to get information to as many people as possible on how to cope. 

Read the latest on WSHU’s coronavirus coverage here.

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Tom has been with WSHU since 1987, after spending 15 years at college and commercial radio and television stations. He became Program Director in 1999, and has been local host of NPR’s Morning Edition since 2000.
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