Community Foundation steps up with immediate relief funds

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Luisa Espinosa picks up dinner from owner Andrew Farbman at Amigo's Cantina in Belfair Village April 30. A total of 33 eateries in Bluffton and Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island are participating in the Hungry Heart Restaurant Workers Relief Fund meal gi

The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry has once again stepped up to the front line to assist residents and businesses amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-April, the foundation awarded $90,050 in grants from its recently created COVID-19 Response Fund to six nonprofit organizations in Beaufort, Hampton, Colleton and Jasper counties for healthcare, food, supplies and housing needs.

A week later it added another $34,250 to two organizations in Hampton and Colleton counties for the relief effort.

"After Hurricane Matthew hit (in October 2016), we immediately began distributing grants to those 'boots on the ground' nonprofit organizations that respond to those situations," said Chris Kerrigan, foundation president and CEO. "But this crisis is much different. Like Matthew, the generosity of our community has overwhelmed us. We've worked with a number of groups to set up funds or efforts directed at helping our neighbors who are really impacted by this ... But the difference is not knowing the duration and the crushing financial toll this is going to take on our area."

The Response Fund was established March 20 and has awarded $282,000 in grants since then to 19 nonprofit groups. In the first round on April 8, 11 organizations received grants totaling $158,050.

"When we realized - pretty early - that this was going to have a profound impact on our region, we knew we needed to marshal our resources, both financial and intellectual," said Kerrigan, who assumed his duties in April 2019. "We had experience supporting the community in previous disasters, so we knew what we needed to do."

The foundation board approved a $100,000 match in March and within 10 days after its founding, the community responded by donating $100,000. The board responded with an additional $50,000 match. The coffer grew to $300,000, and the board approved another $50,000 match. More than $440,000 has been raised to date.

"The majority of the funding has gone to address food and housing insecurity," Kerrigan said. "But we've also provided funding for domestic violence services, which is on an uptick during this time."

The most recent grant recipients were:

Bluffton Community Soup Kitchen will use the funds to purchase food for the Hot Stuff Food Program, which provides meals for low-income, at-risk community members in Bluffton and Yemassee.

Hampton United Methodist Church will use the grant to purchase food and supplies for the Hampton School District One Backpack Buddy Program. The grant will help the program expand to bring meals to 300 more participants.

Lowcountry Strong Foundation (see sidebar) will use the money to fund meals for the Hungry Heart Restaurant Workers Relief Fund, a program for unemployed or underemployed hospitality workers in Beaufort County.

The Margaret F. Curtis Food Pantry will use the grant to increase capacity because of school closings and stay home orders in Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.

New Destiny Center will use the funds to provide hot meals to low income, at-risk Jasper County seniors who are confined to their homes.

The Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity also received grant money to fund insurance and tax escrow payments for approximately 30 percent of Habitat for Humanity homeowners who have lost employment as a result of the pandemic.

The first round of recipients in early April were Antioch Education Center, Beaufort-Jasper YMCA of the Lowcountry, Bluffton Self Help, HELP of Beaufort, Neighborhood Outreach Connection, The Deep Well Project, Hopeful Horizons, Lowcountry Food Bank, St. Stephens Outreach Foodbank, Sandalwood Community Food Pantry and Second Helpings

An advisory board, with representatives from each of the four counties, reviews grant requests. The Lowcountry Community COVID-19 Response Fund grantmaking initially focuses on providing resources to front-line nonprofits that address health and human services.

"We know that this thing probably won't be over in the immediate future and that people will be struggling for some time," Kerrigan said. "So, we hope to continue awarding grants. Obviously, that means we need people to continue to make donations to the fund."

For more information, and to donate, visit cf-lowcountry.org.

Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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