Guest column

COVID-19 Fund delivers nearly $1M so far in relief grants

By , Guest Columnist Published: April 11, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Guest Columnist

Bob Fockler

Bob Fockler is president of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, the largest charitable grantmaker in the Mid-South. The Community Foundation manages 1,200 charitable funds for individuals, families and organizations, including the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund. 


Trying to stay connected during the coronavirus crisis is requiring most of us to use technology in a new way to work from home, continue our children’s schooling, or stay in touch with family and friends. How many of us have adapted to our “new normal” with a steady flow of Zoom meetings or Facetime calls with family near and far?

<strong>Bob Fockler</strong>

Bob Fockler

But imagine trying to help with your kids’ home-school assignments if you don’t know English and don’t have adequate internet or equipment. Or, needing to talk with your family counselor in a time of distress, but knowing her office door has been mandatorily closed. The pandemic is forcing divides among all people, but one made even more acute for those with barriers to accessibility.

Some local nonprofits are working to connect those Mid-Southerners, though.

Refugee Empowerment Program, for instance, is distributing tablets to the program’s students so they can do schoolwork and providing them remote educational and mentoring support. The nonprofit is working with the students’ teachers to help bridge language and cultural gaps heightened in an emergency remote-learning environment. It is connecting often non-English-literate parents with resources so they can give their children the learning support we are all suddenly being called to offer as impromptu “home-schoolers.”

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Kindred Place is providing telehealth services by phone and video, and hosting an online co-parenting class. The agency exists to support families in crisis, offering individual counseling, group therapy, and classes for adults and children. Even in a pre-shelter-in-place world, it helped support fragile and often volatile family systems — ones further strained by economic hardship and the stressors of homebound life. Its HIPAA-compliant telehealth services provide a critical lifeline in this difficult time.

These are just two organizations that recently received grants from the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund. And, they’re just two organizations that are being flooded with pleas for assistance from those they serve. In desperate times, agencies across our community are turning to us for help.

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The Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund is a collaborative relief effort among the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, City of Memphis, Shelby County Government, United Way of the Mid-South, and Momentum Nonprofit Partners/Mid-South Philanthropy Network.

This network of partners is, thankfully, in a unique position to help effectively because of our years of entrenched work and trusted relationships with the organizations that are delivering vital services to our neighbors in need. This is what we were built for. We have our ear to the ground with hundreds of local nonprofits and are awarding weekly, rapid-relief grants to support the increased need that they are seeing — with $977,500 and counting out the door to 48 agencies thus far.

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We are addressing broader needs like food insecurity and supply scarcity, but also awarding grants that help vulnerable populations including pregnant and post-partum women, artists and hospitality workers, the homeless, and our rural neighbors, just to name a few.

We are committed to acting quickly now to help our neighbors facing new or unexpected challenges in this crisis. But we are equally committed to being there for the long haul, supporting our nonprofit community that will continue to feel the effects of the coronavirus after the public health emergency has subsided. In order to move resources quickly and adapt to evolving needs in the coming weeks and months, we allocate 60% of available funds to immediate needs and save 40% for recovery and resilience funding in the future.

This is a compassionate effort directed by philanthropic experts but driven by concerned citizens. It is only through the generosity of empathetic Mid-Southerners that we can help those on the front lines.

Individual, company and foundation donors have contributed more than $1.6 million to the effort thus far and frankly, we don’t know how much is enough to address all the need we are seeing. We can promise, though, to do all we can to be responsive and effective with the dollars we have to give.

The Fund, which is the unified COVID-19 community relief initiative, will continue to make grant awards weekly as our funds raised allow. We are all in this together. Our pledge is to keep our neighbors connected — to each other and to the services that sustain them. 


Community Foundation of Greater Memphis Refugee Empowerment Program Kindred Place Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund


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