The world is facing unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the long-term global financial and health implications are vast. As this outbreak has steadily moved in our direction, you may wonder how some of our neighbors are faring locally.

Imagine being a single mom living in a long-term motel with three young children, already experiencing hard times. You lose your job due to COVID-19, without enough money to pay for another day, let alone a week, and the manager tells you that you have until noon to pay or you must leave. What would you do?

That’s just one of the many calls of distress our organizations and countless nonprofits have received in the past week. Other callers have experienced job loss, no access to lifesaving medicines, a lack of affordable internet causing their children to miss online teaching, and the list goes on.

Now is the time for all of us to support our neighbors, like the young mother described above. We’re fortunate that Forsyth County has a strong network of nonprofits that have historically risen to the challenge during past crises. We’re proud of how quickly these organizations have mobilized once again to try to prepare to serve the needs of families impacted by COVID-19.

However, the potential magnitude of this crisis is without precedent, and how long the threat, disaster and recovery times will last is unknown. Our community must rally together to support these nonprofits as they provide vital services to our neighbors.

To help in these efforts and working in partnership, the United Way of Forsyth County, The Winston-Salem Foundation, the City of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and Community Organizations Active in Disaster have established the COVID-19 Response Fund for Forsyth County to support local community members impacted by the novel coronavirus.

What will the COVID-19 Response Fund for Forsyth County do? The fund will provide flexible resources for immediate, emerging and long-term needs to local nonprofit organizations working with individuals and families in Forsyth County who are disproportionately impacted by coronavirus and the economic consequences of the outbreak. The fund is designed to complement the work of government and public health officials to address all aspects of the outbreak in Forsyth County. The COVID-19 Response Fund cannot award grants to individuals but will award grants to community-based organizations that will directly support local residents who are most affected by emerging economic and health challenges.

The first phase will be proactive and responsive grants that will fund nonprofits with one-time general operating support to respond to client needs resulting from the COVID-19 virus. More specifically, initial funding will benefit disproportionately impacted community members including: residents without health insurance and/or access to paid sick leave; individuals experiencing homelessness; health care workers; hospitality and service industry workers; unauthorized immigrant populations; and communities of color, and in particular, residents with limited English language proficiency.

We don’t know yet everything the community will need in the coming weeks and months; however, we do know we are in this together. While we are prepared to respond to the needs emerging now, we will remain flexible to address what may be needed later as funds allow. Additional phases of future funding will be developed by evaluating the funds available, community needs, and government response. Both of our organizations and the NC Center for Nonprofits are consistently monitoring the most requested services submitted to the 2-1-1 phone line (and 211.org) in Forsyth County, and we’re also learning what resources families and individuals are requesting through our community partners.

Although COVID-19 has created an urgent situation that must be addressed quickly, we are committed to being excellent stewards of this important fund. No administrative fees are being charged to administer the fund, so all donations will go to help those in need. Grant applications are being reviewed and grant decisions made by representatives from the City of Winston-Salem, Hanesbrands, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, Reynolds American, Truist, United Way of Forsyth County, Wells Fargo and The Winston-Salem Foundation. The group will evaluate applications using information about what needs are in the greatest demand in Forsyth County. Organizations will receive a grant decision within two weeks of applying, and hopefully sooner. Funds will be released on a rolling basis as fundraising continues throughout the outbreak and recovery phases of the crisis, making it possible to move resources quickly and adapt to evolving needs in subsequent funding phases. All grants given and all donations received will be posted at covid19forsyth.org.

How can you help? We are looking for you, all of our friends and neighbors (both corporate partners and individuals), to support this fund. To date we’ve received gifts from $5 to $1 million — every gift is impactful. Together we can make a major difference at this difficult time. Our community has a long history of supporting each other in times of need. We hope you will join us in continuing this legacy through this important effort. To learn more and to donate to the COVID-19 Response Fund for Forsyth County, visit covid19forsyth.org.

Cindy Gordineer is president and CEO of the United Way of Forsyth County. Scott Wierman is president of The Winston-Salem Foundation.

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