As the toll of the coronavirus pandemic continues to have far-reaching impacts on the lives of Boulder County residents, nonprofits have sought to grapple with a growing need in a time when fundraisers have been canceled, volunteer help has to be limited, and some operations must change to comply with state public health orders.
As the need has grown, so has the community response to help. With the aftermath of the pandemic expected to have lasting consequences, Boulder County nonprofits hope to see the outpouring of support continue to aid in their missions.
Significant spike in calls for service
By the end of May, more than half a million Coloradans had filed for unemployment benefits. Marc Cowell, executive director of the OUR Center, said the Longmont-based nonprofit’s most “significant” rise in service needs has been for its resource specialist team, which helps to provide financial assistance for rent and utility bills. The OUR Center seeks to provide people struggling with basic necessities move toward self-sufficiency by providing them with food, financial aid and other resources.
In 2019, the OUR Center averaged about 28 appointments for financial assistance per month, distributing approximately $7,500 to those in need every month. Since mid-March, Cowell said the OUR Center has been seeing about 10 times that many, at 200 appointments a month and roughly $120,000 every month in financial aid delivered.
“Going into the pandemic, we didn’t know what to expect,” Cowell said. “We just took everything on a day-by-day basis. To this point, we’ve been able to meet the needs that have come to us. We haven’t had to turn anyone away, based on a lack of resources.”
At Boulder Food Rescue, which facilitates the redistribution of healthy food to people in need, Hayden Dansky, the nonprofit’s executive director, said there has been a 22% increase in the residential grocery programs since 2019. The no-cost grocery programs include the delivery of food to low-income housing sites, senior homes and day cares, to name a few.
“For sure, we heard from a lot of folks who called us and had never experienced food insecurity before,” they said. “Our program to get healthy food directly to where people are really worked under COVID-19, because for people who couldn’t leave the house it was OK, because we were already taking it directly to them. We are looking at how do we respond to supporting the increased need and getting food directly to communities we don’t already work with?”
Dansky said the nonprofit had received some additional funding, including from the Community Foundation Boulder County to purchase food. Dansky said Boulder Food Rescue has started buying produce from farmers — a new effort that has stemmed from the toll of the virus and Boulder Food Rescue’s response to the increased need seen in the Boulder County community.
When libraries, recreation centers and gyms shuttered, Joseph Zanovitch, executive director for Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement, knew people facing homelessness were going to need a place to go during the day. As a result, the rotating churches where HOPE helps to facilitate overnight shelter opened during the day for four hours for people to have a place to shower, use the restrooms and internet. In April, which Zanovitch said saw peak use, more than 40 people were using the shelters.
“We’ve had to expand. We’ve had to grow and adapt,” Zanovitch said. “We had to be creative in the way that we met the needs of those in our community.”
Many nonprofits depend on fundraisers to garner the lion’s share of their donations. Due to the coronavirus, large gatherings, and subsequently fundraisers, have been put on hold.
At the Longmont Humane Society, Carrie Brackenridge, the nonprofit’s director of marketing and communications, said Homeward Bound, a benefit and live auction, planned for March was canceled. Brackenridge said the humane society had hoped to raise roughly $165,000 at the event. About half of that was recouped in an online auction in June, Brackenridge said.
Similarly, Delaney Dreckman, a location coordinator for Wreaths Across America in Longmont, said the nonprofit, which honors veterans buried at Mountain View Cemetery, was not able to host its fundraisers.
Wreaths Across America, which has chapters across the state, got its start operating last year in Longmont. The nonprofit raises money to put holiday wreaths on the graves of veterans buried at Mountain View Cemetery, which Dreckman approximates is about 1,500 people in the 40-acre cemetery. Plans to have restaurants donate 10% of proceeds on a designated night were also dashed, due to businesses’ own financial struggles and the state putting indoor dining capacity at 50%.
After raising enough money for 1,110 wreaths last year, Dreckman said she hoped to garner enough to buy 1,500 wreaths — the number of veterans believed to be buried in Mountain View Cemetery. So far, they’ve sustained funding for about 200 wreaths, which Dreckman said in a news release June 24 about the milestone, was an “amazing accomplishment” given “the last four months have been detrimental to normal fundraising.” The nonprofit, which got its start in 2019, also lost out on the name recognition and chance to connect with more people when it canceled fundraisers, Dreckman said.
“We basically put everything on hold,” Dreckman said in a phone interview Tuesday. “A lot of our donations are in person. My fear is that we can’t hold these larger fundraisers and that might not be something we can’t do for the rest of the year. It’s hard to plan or get donations from companies if we don’t know if we can hold (a fundraiser) or not.”
The OUR Center typically hosts four major food drives in the spring, bringing in between 7,000 and 18,000 pounds of donations. Due to the pandemic, the drives were either canceled or brought in a paltry amount of food, leaving a strain on the food pantry. Cowell said they are in need of pasta, canned protein like peanut butter, tuna fish, canned vegetables and beans.
To help, the Community Foundation Boulder County, which provides funds to nonprofits, has been trying to fill in the financial gaps. According to Lisa Moreno, the charity organization’s senior program officer, from mid-March to May, 70 Boulder County organizations were awarded 127 grants, equating to about $1.2 million in aid. Compared to the same three-month stretch last year, Moreno said the distribution is a roughly 267% increase in grants out the door.
“We knew when we saw this coming (that we needed) a COVID-19 response fund,” Moreno said. “Overall we were able to raise $1.6 million. Our goal of the fund was to help meet the needs of those most vulnerable … to the virus and most vulnerable in the community.”
The pool of those impacted by the virus and its aftermath, from seniors to the undocumented to those laid off, has continued to grow, Moreno said.
Learning to adapt
Some nonprofits were forced to make major adaptations to operations.
With the inability to allow people to come in and look at pets, the Longmont Humane Society moved close to 200 animals into foster homes in the middle of March. The remaining roughly 1/3 of pets in need of adoption were housed at the humane society building, 9595 Nelson Road. Roughly half of the animals moved from the shelter have since been adopted by their foster family or by friends and neighbors of the family, Brackenridge said.
Starting May 9, Brackenridge said the Longmont Humane Society was able to open by appointment only. Last week, 51 animals were adopted, which she said is close to the average number of adoptions the facility was seeing before the coronavirus began spreading locally.
Navigating without volunteers
While many nonprofits said they have seen a desire from people to volunteer, many organizations have put a curb on volunteer help to limit the number of people in their buildings.
“We miss our volunteers,” said Jessica Bennet, spokesperson for the Agape Safe Haven. “That’s certainly first and foremost what we have really had to change. We don’t want to put anyone in jeopardy, and we also don’t want to put our guests in jeopardy.”
The Longmont-based program offers shelter and support services to people facing homelessness. Volunteers, like many local nonprofits, were an integral part of the nonprofit and would cook dinner and socialize with guests in the evening.
The program is now housing six guests. While it’s accepting applications, Bennet said the nonprofit can’t allow new guests at this time, due to the pandemic.
With the Centers for Disease Control advising that those 65 and older are at higher risk of contracting serious illness from the coronavirus, Dreckman said many Wreaths Across America volunteers wouldn’t be able to take part in fundraising efforts, even if they were still able to happen. She said more than 50 volunteers who helped with last year’s ceremony are over the age of 60.
At the OUR Center, Cowell said the number of volunteers is limited inside the building to abide by 6-foot social distancing practices. In prepandemic times, roughly 60 volunteers would be at the nonprofit’s building working. Today, that number has been cut in half. Like Wreaths Across America, some volunteers didn’t feel comfortable leaving their homes.
“We have a lot of volunteers who are anxious to come back and start working for us again, but we just don’t have the space to do that safely,” Cowell said. “We have adequate for what we need at this point, but it’s not nearly the number of volunteers we once had because of this pandemic.”
For those who have volunteered, helping people during a growing time of need has been rewarding.
Volunteer Lisa Bailey has been coming to the OUR Center to assist with food box assembly since mid-May. She has been donating to the OUR Center for the past 10 to 15 years. After losing her job as an event planner in mid-March, she decided to continue her support of the nonprofit with her time.
“I had a pretty intensive job, where I was traveling more than 200 days a year,” Bailey said. “The OUR Center has given me the chance to make me feel like I’m making a difference. It’s given me social interaction and a reason to get out of the house a couple of days a week.”
COVID-19 impacts far from over
With a moratorium on evictions lifted mid-June, Cowell said, the OUR Center leaders are bracing for a second wave of service requests spikes, likely in August, as people continue to grapple with the far-reaching impacts of the virus.
“We are also anticipating that this recovery is not going to be a month or two,” Cowell said. “This is going to be months, possibly a year or two, that we are going to have to try to be in position to help families stay stable and get back on their feet. We want to position ourselves to respond to that until the very end.”
A community rallies
Cowell said the community support he’s seen for the OUR Center has been a “bright light” amidst the gloom of the pandemic.
“The support we’ve seen from business and churches, etc., has been amazing,” Cowell said. “We’ve raised more funds this year, with the pandemic being a major driving force, than any other year. We’ve raised more funds this year than we did for the OUR Center after the flood several years ago.”
Bennet said she’s been proud to see Boulder County residents step in to donate to Agape Safe Haven during this challenging time. Many other nonprofit leaders said they too have been overwhelmed by community support.
“Anytime I send out an email or post something on Facebook about a need we have, (the response) is instantaneous,” Bennet said. “People care about our guests. They haven’t been forgotten. It’s nice to call Longmont home, because this is a community that really cares and really gets it — a big virtual hug to everybody here.”
Moreno said the Community Foundation Boulder County is not the only charity organization that has stepped up to help nonprofits embrace new challenges, something she hopes to see continue as the pandemic continues to impose challenges on residents.
“Every entity in the county that has money to give has been scrambling to get those funds out the door, including the Longmont Community Foundation and the Boulder Chamber and Lyons Community Foundation,” Moreno said. “Everyone, the cities, county, has been coordinating and collaborating to make sure we meet the needs. The part that’s challenging is the breadth of need and limitation of funding. Even though everyone has been overwhelmingly generous — the need is that big.”
How to help
To donate to Agape Safe Haven, visit agapelongmont.org.
To donate to Boulder Food Rescue, visit boulderfoodrescue.org/donate.
To give to the Community Foundation Boulder County, visit commfound.org.
To donate to HOPE, visit hopeforlongmont.org.
Visit the Longmont Humane Society wish list to see needed items for donation at longmonthumane.org/?q=wish-list or check out the website to make a monetary donation.
To donate to the OUR Center, visit ourcenter.org.
To donate to Wreaths Across America, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org/comvcl.