By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on March 23, 2020
But their own budgets may take a beating as well
As the coronavirus crisis leads to economic uncertainty across the nation, the Outer Banks has been no exception and non-profit organizations on the front lines here are already witnessing the financial toll the pandemic is taking on the local community – from residents suddenly out of work to business owners forced to shutter their doors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
At the same time, non-profit leaders acknowledge their organizations could take a financial hit as well – at least in the short term – just as the community need increases.
“We don’t have a confirmed case of coronavirus here in the Outer Banks yet, but we certainly have a confirmed case of economic distress,” Outer Banks Community Foundation (OBCF) Executive Director Lorelei Costa told the Voice. “And our nonprofits have risen to the occasion, in terms of nutritional assistance, financial assistance, child care and getting children online so they can participate in remote learning.”
In the past week, Interfaith Community Outreach (ICO) – the local nonprofit dedicated to providing financial assistance to those facing a temporary emergency – has received 18 applications seeking assistance with rent or other bills as a result of COVID-19 crisis.
“A lot of people are living paycheck to paycheck, and that is going to be pretty much gone,” ICO Executive Director Jennifer Albanese said, adding that the recent applicants have never been ICO clients before. She anticipates a growing need as April 1 approaches and rents and mortgage payments are due.
ICO was awarded $10,000 in funding through the Outer Banks Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant program and has another $20,000 in its April budget. But Albanese warns that resources are limited.
“These are people who have never needed assistance before…we are going to help as much as we can,” Albanese asserted, adding that her organization will seek additional funding sources and grants as the situation evolves. She noted that while no in-person interviews are currently being scheduled, those seeking assistance should apply online at interfaithoutreach.com or by calling (252) 480-0070.
Costa said that the Children & Youth Partnership sent out a survey this week to gauge the childcare needs of essential workers in the community, which Costa noted was still a “work in progress.”
She also gave a number of examples of how the community and nonprofits have quickly come together – from Starbucks Coffee donating all of its dairy to the Beach Food Pantry before it closed. to the work of the Dare Education Foundation, through the OBCF’s Rapid Response Grant, to provide home internet service for more than 100 students in preparation for remote learning.
“Everything is evolving very quickly to try to meet the changing community needs,” she noted. “We don’t know if we’re going to need this two weeks from now, a month from now or six months from now.”
The Beach Food Pantry has also seen evidence of the toll the crisis has taken on local residents. Executive Director Elisabeth Silverthorne said that last week, roughly 150 clients visited the pantry – the same number who visited the prior two weeks combined.
“It started really last week, and Tuesday we started hearing people saying, ‘You know, I just got laid off today,’” she said. Silverthorne also said that many have expressed difficulty being able to afford what’s left on grocery store shelves – with the less expensive items being gone.
“And I expect that we are actually going to see even greater need in the next two weeks,” explained Silverthorne, adding that paychecks will dry up as businesses close. “I think that as that money dwindles down…I expect that we’re going to see a dramatic increase.”
As restaurants close, Silverthorne said many are donating perishables. “And that’s really the only thing that’s keeping us afloat perishable-wise,” she said. If restaurants contact the pantry, she noted, volunteers can pick up the food directly to ensure that those donations are helping Outer Banks families.
She also added that until the grocery stores have had a chance to restock, “We’ve also made a pledge to not buy off the shelves in a way that would leave someone else – who maybe isn’t quite in need of the pantry, but is not in a great place right now — in a worse place.” Instead, she said, the pantry is working with wholesale providers.
The pantry’s biggest need currently, Silverthorne stated, includes monetary donations, which can be made through the pantry’s website.
OBCF’s Costa acknowledged that as the local nonprofits are going into high gear to meet community needs, “they’re also getting hit themselves by this economic distress because people have less to give, volunteers are concerned about leaving their homes and we have canceled fundraisers…this is going to hit nonprofits, really hard in the long term.”
Costa explained that the foundation is using its legacy and planned gifts it has received over the decades to meet the community needs, including $55,000 toward a COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant that is accepting applications from non-profits every two weeks.
“I’ve seen this community, over and over again, respond to disasters with neighbors helping neighbors and that continues to inspire me and humble me. And I’m seeing that again now,” Costa added.
For her part, Outer Banks Relief Foundation Executive Director Patty McKenna said the organization intends to continue supporting clients through the COVID-19 crisis and anticipates the possibility of assisting those who may become ill with the novel coronavirus.
But while uncertainty remains about how the COVID-19 crisis will impact local nonprofits, McKenna remains hopeful. “We’re prepared to not receive the same level of philanthropy for a short period of time,” she said, noting the fact that many nonprofits are entering the season of fundraisers.
“There is much to be optimistic about,” she asserted. “We have such a strong community of organizations that already know how to respond to natural disasters. Even with many months of uncertainty, most of the nonprofit infrastructure will bounce back.”
Albanese echoed those sentiments, declaring, “We live is such an awesome community and we will get through this.”
(Dare County residents with needs or concerns during this crisis can call the Dare County COVID-19 Hotline at (252) 475-5008 or 2-1-1 for up-to-date community services in Dare County.)