Road to Recovery: The Community Foundation’s Response to COVID-19

This story originally appeared in our 2020 Yearbook

When the coronavirus first arrived in southeast Michigan, it brought countless uncertainties along with it.

We did not know how best to quell the rapid spread of the disease, how to establish a reliable mass testing system, or—in the age of social distancing—how to comfort a friend who had suddenly lost a loved one.

In the first few weeks, when Michigan emerged as one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic, we knew the Community Foundation was in a strong position to serve the region’s most urgent needs. But we wanted to be sure what those needs were, so we reached out to community members to hear from them.

In collaboration with community leaders across the region—both those we had worked with for decades as well as new partners—we identified emerging needs in several key fields. These include health, small business, the arts, domestic violence, safety and justice, senior care, and youth development.

Informed by that community input, we established four funds designed specifically to address COVID-related issues:

Thanks to many donors, the Community Foundation’s COVID-related efforts secured over $12 million and distributed over $9.7 million in grants – all within a three-month span between late March and early June 2020.

We continue to learn from our nonprofit partners while we strategically plan to grant the remaining funds raised within the next few months.

The Community Foundation and our companion organization the DMC Foundation emerged as early supporters for COVID testing, deploying a $300,000 grant to the City of Detroit for testing of first responders and others at the State Fairgrounds site. This contribution has helped enable health officials to test up to 2,000 people per day. COVID testing was —and still is – an immediate need.

In addition to providing grants to testing sites and county health departments, as well as senior living facilities, the Community Foundation provided matching funds to support 12 community-based health clinics, matching emergency government dollars. And, we provided grants to frontline workers at three hospitals on behalf of the Detroit Pistons. A significant grant was also provided to Wayne State University for testing more than 800 inmates at the Wayne County jail.

We also partnered with Detroit watchmaker Shinola to support healthcare workers during the crisis. All proceeds from Shinola’s “The Champ” watch – initially designed to commemorate the 2020 Olympics – were donated to the Community Foundation’s Health COVID-19 Relief Fund.

In addition to supporting testing needs for frontline workers, people experiencing homelessness, and other high-risk populations, the Community Foundation and its partners also recognized the impact of the pandemic on small business owners.

In Detroit, the vast majority of businesses qualify as “small business” according to the Small Business Administration, making the region especially vulnerable.

Through the COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund, administered by our New Economy Initiative (NEI), $4.8 million was deployed to support 22 projects that are reaching about 2,700 small businesses in Detroit and other parts of southeast Michigan.

Grants made through the Fund have assisted local businesses with rent relief, loan relief, technical assistance, and general capital support in lieu of federal dollars. This was just part of a comprehensive set of strategies deployed by NEI and its network of business support resources.

The Community Foundation also partnered with foundations and individuals interested in the arts to establish the COVID-19 Arts and Creative Community Assistance Fund — an initiative that raised nearly $1 million in support for southeast Michigan arts and culture needs. In partnership with CultureSource, the Fund is assisting the cultural community to respond to current needs and to develop long-term sustainability.

In May, 50 grants of $10,000 each were made to arts and culture organizations across the counties we serve to support organizations struggling amidst staff reductions, months of event cancellations, lost ticket sales, and other financial stressors.

One of the Community Foundation’s strengths is its ability and flexibility to determine unmet needs and respond quickly.

The flexible COVID-19 Relief Fund for Southeast Michigan is helping us examine and address longer-term issues and opportunities as they emerge over time.

For example, when state leaders issued a stay-at-home order to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, it required all of us in Michigan to change our lives in unexpected ways. But for those already experiencing abusive situations at home, quarantine has led to an increase in issues surrounding mental health, domestic violence, and sexual assault.

In response, the Community Foundation quickly provided grants to nine domestic violence organizations across the seven-county region. Those grants have helped equip organizations such as Family Counseling and Shelter Services of Monroe County and other mental health groups to provide victims of physical and mental abuse with vital resources to connect safely with survivors/victims and continue their impactful work.

We know the coronavirus pandemic will continue to impact our community in unforeseen ways, and the Community Foundation will be there going forward.

Meanwhile, as we all continue to learn how to respond to this pandemic, we are humbled by the nonprofit leaders, organizers, small business owners, artists, and others who have worked to keep our community thriving, including our many donors whose generosity continues to make our work possible.

While philanthropy continues to support health systems, small business owners, arts organizations, and so many others, we are consistently inspired by the health care workers themselves, who put their own lives at risk to serve us and help our community prosper.

As we enter July 2020, we are turning to look at longer term challenges and the innovation we will all need to ensure our lives and communities continue to thrive.