COVINGTON, Ky. — When the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down and grocery stores began running low on essentials, Margaret Bodytko knew exactly where she could get help with food for herself and her two grandchildren: Be Concerned.
Bodytko has been going to the Covington-based nonprofit every month for the past 15 years, she said, and Be Concerned has never let her down.
“They’re always here for me if I need food,” she said. “Every time I come, they always got what I need, if not more.”
But the COVID-19 crisis has tested the organization's ability to provide for neighbors in need like nothing else that executive director Andy Brunsman has ever seen, he said.
“We always try to keep a month’s worth of stock in the building,” Brunsman said, but March brought 50% more families than usual to Be Concerned. “We started to get a little nervous a few weeks into it.”
Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky was there to help.
The community foundation launched the Horizon NKY Coronavirus Relief Fund in mid-March with a goal of raising money to deploy quickly to nonprofit organizations helping those hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis.
“We knew that there was going to be a great need in our community for families and individuals who were being disproportionately impacted by the virus,” said Horizon Community Funds president Nancy Grayson. “I don’t think at the time we quite knew how significant that need was going to be. But we did know that it was important for us as a new community foundation to rally together with other funders, with other corporations and with private donors in the community to step up and do something to help those who are really struggling.”
The relief fund started with an ambitious goal of raising $4 million. It has raised more than $2.1 million so far, Grayson said, and has distributed close to $500,000 as of Wednesday.
Pulling people together
The fund has made distributions to eight nonprofit organizations, Grayson said. The smallest grant of $4,500 went to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Northern Kentucky to help some families through an emergency, she said.
The largest grant of $200,000 went to Meals on Wheels to help the nonprofit deliver meals to senior citizens who haven’t been able to leave their homes during the pandemic, many of whom don’t typically qualify for services.
The relief fund gave $150,000 to Be Concerned in April to coordinate food distribution with 17 partner agencies throughout Northern Kentucky. Be Concerned got another $10,000 from the fund this week to purchase a new, automated pallet jack and additional food supplies.
“As we’ve learned here, as we do more for more with more, the community wants to do more, for more with more and with those partners who are doing that,” Brunsman said.
Be Concerned changed its food distribution model completely in response to the coronavirus.
Clients like Bodytko used to be able to select groceries themselves from the organization’s food pantry with the help of a volunteer. When the pandemic made that system risky, Brunsman developed a “car hop” alternative.
Now clients get a list of available groceries and mark down what they want. Be Concerned staff and volunteers take the list to the food pantry, where other volunteers bag up the items on the list for it to be taken out to the clients’ cars while they wait.
Donna Roth lives near Be Concerned’s West Pike Street location. She sometimes goes to the organization for food, and she has been volunteering in the food pantry every day it has been open since the COVID-19 crisis began.
She said the steep increase in the number of people who needed emergency food assistance made March hectic, but donations — some large, some small — have seen the organization through.
“It’s pulled people together actually,” Roth said. “Whether you’re rich, poor, no matter what your politics or religion is, people are pulling together and helping each other out now.”
‘Tip of the iceberg’
The grants announced Wednesday include $34,500 to bring internet access to Northern Kentucky students in kindergarten through 12th grade for summer learning. The fund also granted $15,000 to Esperanzo Latino Center of NKY for rent, utilities and other emergency assistance for the Hispanic and Latino families the nonprofit serves.
Grayson said Horizon Community Funds has been working to make sure its grants complement the efforts of the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund that Greater Cincinnati Foundation and United Way of Greater Cincinnati launched in March.
The Northern Kentucky relief fund also has focused on funding “backbone” organizations that can help get the money quickly to the individuals and families who need it most, she said.
“We know that we can’t put a chicken in every pot,” Grayson said. “We can’t support every family in need, but we’re really trying to leverage what other resources are out there.”
The way Northern Kentucky has rallied around neighbors in need has helped make people feel a bit more confident they’ll be able to get through the crisis, Brunsman said.
“That fear has lessened a little bit as people in Northern Kentucky, in my opinion, have taken this seriously,” he said. “Now we see hope in the parking lot, right. People are seeing the end of this thing.”
Still, recovery won’t be quick, Grayson said, and the Northern Kentucky relief fund is reserving some of the money it has raised to help in those efforts, too.
“We think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “At this point, we do expect that we’ll be able to deploy for many months to come.”
Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky continues to raise money for its relief fund. Individuals and businesses can donate by texting “NKYRELIEF” to 44-321, by visiting www.horizonfunds.org and donating online or by mailing a check payable to Horizon Community Funds to 50 E. RiverCenter Blvd., Suite 430, Covington, KY, 41011. Be sure to write NKY Coronavirus Relief Fund in the memo of the check.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.