As Minnesota nonprofits cancel fundraisers and face a shortage of volunteers, local foundations are stepping up to launch emergency funds to try and ensure that nonprofits can provide food and other critical services to a growing number of needy people during the coronavirus outbreak.
On Wednesday, the Minnesota Council on Foundations and the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation announced its new Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund, a nearly $4.4 million statewide fund backed by 28 foundations — from the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota in Minneapolis to the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, Minn. The money will go to six Minnesota Initiative Foundations and other grant-makers to support residents, small businesses and nonprofits.
“The needs are obviously evolving in ways we could never have imagined,” said Susie Brown, who heads the Minnesota Council on Foundations. “We just want to be part of the solution.”
In St. Paul, the Otto Bremer Trust created a new $50 million fund this week for Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Montana nonprofits and organizations to help provide emergency funding, loans and lines of credit.
And in Minneapolis, the Greater Twin Cities United Way started a COVID-19 fund this week to support food and housing services for people in need, while the Headwaters Foundation for Justice is trying to raise $1 million this week to support community organizing and other efforts to advocate for sick leave and prevent housing evictions, especially among low-income people of color, who face wider health and education disparities.
Headwaters Executive Director Maria De La Cruz said the public health crisis is “shedding light on how our institutions … are not set up for people most impacted by oppression.”
Minnesota has more than 9,000 nonprofits with a record 385,000 workers, making up 13.3% of the state’s workforce, according to the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Many of those nonprofits help vulnerable groups — from older adults to a record number of homeless people. The coronavirus is hitting them especially hard as they cancel fundraisers and fear big donors will decrease giving after the stock market plunge.
Gov. Tim Walz ordered all Minnesota restaurants and bars to shut down on-site dining as of Tuesday evening. But on Wednesday, some chefs were back to work after Second Harvest Heartland, the state’s largest food bank, announced a $5 million initiative to pay now-shuttered restaurants to prepare meals for people in need. The initiative, called Minnesota’s Central Kitchen, so far includes three dining companies — Chowgirls Killer Catering, Restaurant Alma and the Bachelor Farmer. The takeout meals will be distributed by Loaves and Fishes, which has 30 dining locations in the state.
Second Harvest is trying to raise $5 million more to prepare and distribute 10,000 emergency food boxes to low-income people across the state. So far, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota has pledged $750,000 to both efforts, and Second Harvest CEO Allison O’Toole said she was “burning up the phone lines asking for help” from other contributors.
“It is go-time around here,” O’Toole said. “The number of neighbors in need facing food insecurity is growing rapidly. We’re seeing our numbers go through the roof. This is an opportunity for the entire community to come together to fuel this effort.”
Second Harvest, which relies on thousands of volunteers to help pack meals at its warehouses, shut down its volunteer center Tuesday due to the coronavirus outbreak and instead is buying more pre-boxed meals. The food bank delivers to food shelves, many of which are seeing double the demand from a week ago, O’Toole said.
Second Harvest leaders want restaurants and corporate cafeterias, which also shut down as companies shift to remote work, to donate food through Second Harvest’s MealConnect app — which links organizations’ surplus food to charities. The app, which is already getting unprecedented interest, was started a couple of years ago by Feeding America with $1 million from Minnesota-based General Mills.
In Minneapolis, the Greater Twin Cities United Way, which has canceled events through mid-April, is also fielding an increase in calls to its statewide resource hotline. Residents looking for food or housing support can text MNCOVID to 898-211 or call 211.
Rural residents, nonprofits and businesses may be affected more by the outbreak and the closures over time.
“Rural communities could lag behind a bit in terms of the impact, but it could be potentially more long-lasting because there are fewer resources,” said Diana Anderson, CEO of the Southwest Initiative Foundation in Hutchinson, Minn.
In Little Falls, Minn., the Initiative Foundation activated a Central Minnesota Emergency Relief and Recovery Fund, seeded with $20,000 from the foundation.
Nonprofits are also losing revenue during the outbreak.
From the Minnesota Historical Society’s sites to the Minnesota Children’s Museum and Science Museum of Minnesota, nonprofits have closed, losing admission revenue.
Spring is also a critical time for nonprofit galas and annual fundraisers, which are now in limbo during the outbreak, when large gatherings are prohibited. Some are getting creative. On Saturday, a masquerade gala in Minneapolis that was supposed to draw 700 people in support of the nonprofit Minnesota Independence College and Community moved online with a live video. It still raised more than $300,000.
Glen Fladeboe, a fundraising consultant, had 120 nonprofit events scheduled this spring that are now canceled or postponed. He said some nonprofits are still asking for donations online, concerned about declines in giving this year because of the outbreak and resulting financial crisis.
“The community needs to rally behind these nonprofits,” he said.