With schools closed, businesses shuttered and initial claims for unemployment rising, many local non-profits are seeing increased need for services at the same time donations are evaporating. In the new age of social distancing, traditional means of fundraising have fallen by the wayside leaving many non-profits in the red.
Some of the local organizations like the Literacy Council of Madison County and Madison Learning Center have had to temporarily close their doors out of concern for the health and safety of both clients and volunteers. The literacy council provides education services to adult residents of Madison County and in mid-March was helping several work toward the GED exam. With Governor Northam’s mandate and the difficulty in maintaining social distancing in a one-on-one tutoring situation the organization opted to close its doors. Fay Utz, a member of the board, said the organization is still able to get materials to learners but at this time there is no way to proceed safely.
“There was no way for us for tutors and learners to maintain social distancing,” said Utz. “If this continues for awhile, we will be exploring ways to get our programs online. There is limited internet access in parts of the county and many people don’t have a tablet or computer. Some of the programs we run are aimed at teaching computer and smartphone literacy which could pose a challenge virtually.”
For both the Literacy Council of Madison County and the Madison Learning Center shutting the doors doesn’t mean stopping the bills; rent, electric, insurance and staff still have to be paid, all while fundraising has slowed to a crawl. The literacy council canceled its chili dinner fundraiser and the learning center relies on tuition. Both Utz and Ren LeVally, member of the Madison Learning Center board, expressed concern about the organizations’ ongoing expenses.
Other area charities like the Madison Free Clinic, MAD Cats and MESA have kept their operations going.
Brenda Clements, executive director of the Madison Free Clinic has been preparing the organization for a potential increase in clientele and services. The free clinic has recently added telemedicine appointments, increased online renewals and screening and is offering free COVID-19 testing for patients.
“We are committed to helping the community,” said Clements. “We have ramped up services, added a free wi-fi spot, and are prepared for an increasing need for our services. With so many people reliant on employer based health care and an increase in unemployment we are preparing for additional patients. Most of them are able to get COBRA coverage if they’re laid off but often can’t afford it. When people are struggling to pay their bills, health insurance is often the first one to go. They’re having to decide whether to pay the rent and utilities or their insurance premium. We are prepared to help Madison County residents that are in need.”
MAD Cats has continued trap-neuter-return (TNR) work and has been working to reduce the number of unwanted cats in Madison County. The nature of the work lends itself to social distancing and the organization has neutered more than 140 cats this year from the feral colonies in Madison County.
MESA has closed the thrift store but continues to operate the food pantry, Barbara’s House and the emergency assistance fund. Executive director Eleanor Mower said the organization is working to keep the food pantry safe and stocked. Mower said the non-profit has recently seen an increased need for services with additional requests for assistance and an increase in the number of food pantry clients. Staff has been working from home when possible and though many of the regular volunteers have been staying home, Mower said it has been offset by community members that aren’t working filling in.
“The community has been very generous and helpful,” said Mower. “We are working hard to keep the food pantry clean and to limit entry to comply with social distancing guidelines. We have had many generous donations, but are definately feeling the loss of our thrift store income. The thrift store generates several hundred dollars each week that goes into funding our other programs. We have been able to keep the food pantry stocked and meet the increased demand, but we haven’t had much meat. Normally, we have grocery stores that donate chickens, turkeys and meat. Now the stores are running low and don’t have enough for customers much less to donate.”
Give Local Piedmont is being viewed as a potential savior for many of these non-profits this year. The online fundraising initiative is sponsored by the Northern Piedmont Community Foundation and is open to all 501(c) 3 public organizations that serve the populations of Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison and Rappahannock counties.
Traditionally, the initiative has been a large source of revenue for all the non-profits. This year it may be the only fundraiser for many organizations.
Despite the importance of Give Local Piedmont, none of the organizations are agressively promoting it.
“Normally we go all out promoting this,” said Utz. “It doesn’t seem appropriate now.”
Mower and Clements voiced similar sentiments.
“We have been so blessed to have donors who have helped us implement our new programs,” said Clements.
“The community has really come out to support MESA,” said Mower. “We are very appreciative of it. Other years we have really pushed giving Tuesday, but it doesn’t seem right.”
Give Local Piedmont will be held Tuesday, May 5. Every dollar donated to the local non-profits is increased with added money from the PATH Foundation, a Warrenton based grantmaking organization. Donors can currently make pre-event donations, but only those made on May 5 will count toward special timed prizes awarded to the charities. The recommended minimum donation is $10. For more information and to make a donation, visit givelocalpiedmont.org.