Millions of Americans lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Others faced temporary furloughs, transitioning to remote work or otherwise a complete upheaval of their lives. We are still feeling the effects nearly a year after the pandemic began.
The suburbs of Minnesota are not immune to pandemic related hardships. However, we have seen communities support one another in new and encouraging ways.
The Edina Community Foundation (ECF) has been on a mission to bring financial backing to those in need since 1977. A week into Minnesota’s stay at home order in March 2020, discussions began to create the Edina COVID-19 Relief Fund in order to address new the challenges Edina residents faced.
A collaborative effort between ECF staff, mayor James Hoveland and state representative Heather Edelson, the COVID-19 Relief Fund began with a request for financial help to purchase masks from a local nonprofit. A committee of 12, including co-chairs Caroline Correia and Jon Barnett, work to most effectively raise funds and distribute grants to support communities affected by the pandemic.
Funds are donated by local organizations and individuals, and have included Edina Morningside Rotary Foundation, Colonial Church, Wooddale Church, Royal Credit Union and Edina Rotary Foundation. All donors are highlighted on the ECF website.
“It was like citizens helping citizens,” says Tina Borher, communications director for ECF. “It was really, truly a groundswell of ‘I still have my job and I want to help the people that are impacted.’ Because COVID didn’t impact everyone equally. We were all in the storm, but some of us were in a leaky boat and some of us were just fine.”
Grants are distributed by the Edina COVID-19 Relief Committee through a rubric that helps determine where they can make the most impact for Edina residents. These grants are awarded to local organizations that make requests through an online application. The grants are given to community organizations working to meet the needs of individuals who live, work or have a business in Edina and who have been especially impacted financially by the coronavirus, specifically where federal, state and county funds are not available. Examples of how those organizations use the grants include waiving fees (such as rent relief) or supporting their operations (buy supplies, hire staff, etc.).
Grants have gone to a wide variety of organizations. Aeon is a Twin Cities-based nonprofit focused on providing affordable housing. They received two COVID-19 Relief grants totaling $5,000. “More than 90 percent of our residents are low-income, and many work in service, retail or hospitality,” Aeon grant writer Ali Renk says. “They face record high unemployment rates. Those still working face increased risk of contracting the coronavirus.”
Aeon uses the grants to provide rent relief for those struggling to make payments due to the pandemic. “With no new stimulus funding on the horizon [at the time of this interview], this fund is a safety net for residents with no other options,” Renk says.
The Fortune Relief and Youth Empowerment Organization (FRAYEO) was another grant recipient. The organization provides support services to youth and adults in the East African communities of Minnesota through cultural programs, mentorship, education and support programs. They were able to rehire their full time youth coordinator as an emergency care worker with the grant funds.
Simply Jane/ArtAble Studio has also received funds. This nonprofit organization typically provides an education center and public paint studio, focusing on art education. Since the pandemic, its offerings have been limited. The grant funding has allowed the creation of art kits for senior and long term assisted living residents at Heritage of Edina and Aurora on France, addressing the isolation residents experience with limited visitors during the pandemic.
According to Dick Crockett, executive director for ECF, the COVID-19 Relief Fund had given approximately $24,000 as of October 2020 and were expected to top $30,000 by year-end. Applications for grants and donations can be made on the Edina Community Foundation website.