For the first time, more than 200 AmeriCorps members are being deployed to help Minnesota organizations affected by COVID-19.

Starting Monday, they'll work for about 70 organizations across the state and in the Twin Cities, which ranks No. 1 among U.S. cities for the number of volunteers in AmeriCorps.

While AmeriCorps members, often referred to as the domestic Peace Corps, have helped Minnesota communities affected by floods or fires in past years, this is the first time the state has created the AmeriCorps Emergency Response Initiative. They'll join about 1,800 other AmeriCorps members who are working in Minnesota.

"So many organizations were struggling to respond adequately," said Audrey Suker, CEO of ServeMinnesota, the state service commission that administers AmeriCorps state programs.

More than 1,000 people applied for the special positions — a "groundswell" of interest, Suker said, adding that it shows the number of Minnesotans who want to help during the pandemic and also the number of young adults affected by the crisis.

Most of the 240 members are under the age of 30, including college students who had summer internships or jobs canceled because of COVID-19. They'll work 35 hours a week through mid-August at organizations spanning affordable housing nonprofits to food shelves, which have seen a dramatic spike in need during the pandemic.

Sloane Bratton, 28, of Maple Grove had worked as a Minnesota Reading Corps tutor and will now report to the food bank, Second Harvest Heartland, starting Tuesday.

"It makes me feel like I'm doing something this summer that can make a difference," said Bratton, who has a biology degree and aspires to one day be a teacher. "I think it's a vital time to help people out."

Many Minnesota nonprofits are struggling, reeling from a sudden drop off in revenue and increased expenses. Many nonprofits also rely on volunteers, and have had to scale down or move volunteer opportunities online due the coronavirus outbreak. Suker said the AmeriCorps members will also fill gaps left by older adult volunteers who can't help in person due to being more at-risk for complications of the virus.

"You are the folks making a difference," Suker told the AmeriCorps members in a first-ever virtual pledge ceremony Monday, which included celebrities from Jim Gaffigan to actor Taye Diggs thanking Minnesotans for their service via video.

AmeriCorps members receive a frugal living stipend and about $1,300 to go toward student loans or education.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141