One year later, our community’s needs are greater than ever

Over the past year, COVID-19 has attacked much more than our physical health. It’s affected nearly every aspect of our community.

We have learned that our community’s needs are deeper and wider ranging than many previously realized, and that a significant number of people in our community are living on the edge of hunger, homelessness, and crisis.

Prior to the pandemic, about two-in-five local families were struggling to afford basic needs including: housing, food, transportation, childcare, health care, and technology. And during the pandemic, these same families – and many, many more – saw their work hours cut or jobs eliminated, increasing the reliance for assistance with basic needs. Some families who previously provided assistance to others suddenly found themselves with the same need for help.

The first step in addressing any community crisis is to identify the urgent needs and in turn, how to address providing aid and assistance. Through our role as a community convener and collaborator, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay regularly works with nonprofits and philanthropists to identify and address local community needs.

To begin addressing these critical needs, we created the Nonprofit Needs List in March 2020, and the list quickly grew to $21 million in over 500 urgent COVID-related requests from local nonprofits. Today, the number stands at over 1,000 requests.

The first wave of needs during the pandemic were related to housing, food assistance and access to technology for virtual education. To address the need for food, nonprofits like Feeding Tampa Bay, Metropolitan Ministries, and St. Petersburg Free Clinic expanded their capacity, but the number of families who now need assistance with meals has quadrupled and long lines persist at all of our local food pantries.

Those needs continue, and as the pandemic continued, a second set of needs emerged. These “second wave” needs include employment assistance, mental health counseling, and resources for domestic violence victims. The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, with our partners St. Petersburg College, Love for Lawrence, and Humana, took the lead in helping to address the need for more mental health counseling by providing staff at nonprofit organizations free access to Mental Health First Aid, a nationally certified program to recognize and respond to mental health challenges in our region. The goal is train 5,000 people in our community over the next three years.

Local nonprofits and generous donors also stepped forward to support the nonprofits who were working to help our local community. Local philanthropists, corporations, foundations, and donor-advised funds have donated or granted more than $4.2 million to urgent and emerging needs since March 2020.

But the need is still great, and we all need to continue looking for ways to help. And as we do so, there’s an opportunity to use the pandemic to strengthen our community’s resilience and unity for the long-term.

Here are five ways that we all can take an active role in helping those in need and in creating a stronger community:

  • Support the efforts of local nonprofits who are working to lift our neighbors and create an equitable and inclusive community that’s stronger for all of us.
  • Seek information about ideas for mitigating the long-term effects of this pandemic on every segment of our population, and explore how community leaders propose to enact the changes needed to better serve our community.
  • Seek fresh ideas and approaches from people who have an intimate knowledge of our community, and decide how to best support organizations that are helping to build our community.
  • There are numerous opportunities to volunteer, including virtually, such as tutoring, mentoring, providing employment advice and sharing your professional knowledge with a nonprofit.
  • Rally others. We cannot do this alone. Encourage your friends, family members, co-workers, peers and employers to also work together to make a difference.

It is up to each of us to shape our community’s future. Inaction puts our community at risk for permanent damage to our region’s prosperity and the future of younger generations.

And even as we are hearing promising news about the pandemic potentially ending this year, let’s take this opportunity to find more ways to help everyone in our community going forward.

Dr. Jesse Coraggio is Vice President, Community Impact at the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay where he works to create opportunities for philanthropic giving and positive change within the community. 

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