Funds used to help residents impacted by pandemic
The Rapides Foundation in April awarded grants totaling $400,000 to two agencies working to provide relief and assistance to Central Louisiana residents whose lives have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are very focused and strategic as a grantmaker. But this will be the second time in our history – the first being in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – where we felt like events were so extraordinary that it required us to respond,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of the Foundation.
Funds have been used in a variety of ways, such as feeding an increased number of hungry families in Central Louisiana, providing quarantine kits to people who have tested positive, and delivering goods to at-risk residents and senior citizens who are unable to safely leave their homes.
The Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to the United Way of Central Louisiana’s Coronavirus Response Fund. The funds are to help nonprofit agencies and church congregations secure food and household supplies for Central Louisiana residents identified by the UWCL’s Cenla United program.
The Foundation also awarded a $300,000 grant to the Food Bank of Central Louisiana for food assistance needs for Central Louisiana residents. The funds are to support acquisition, packaging and distribution of food in the Food Bank’s coronavirus relief effort.
United Way of Central Louisiana President/CEO David Britt said the organization created a network of partnerships in Central Louisiana parishes to quickly and efficiently reach people affected by the pandemic. They are awarding relatively small grants to the partners, who in turn purchase and deliver food, masks, cleaning supplies, and other essential items to families in need.
“We have really been pleased with the way it’s gone. We are still getting grant applications in, and we still have funding to go. We are feeling good about our response and the amount of resources we’ve been entrusted with to respond to the needs,” he said.
As was the case with the Katrina/Rita response in 2005, the United Way mobilized early on to respond to COVID-19. The Rapides Foundation board, in turn, responded quickly to ensure the funds were disbursed in time to help people affected by the pandemic.
“It really gave us the courage to step out and be a little more assertive in getting the help out there. We certainly would have run out of funds if we didn’t have the funding that The Rapides Foundation had awarded to us, so we deeply appreciate it,” Britt said.
Once community members contact the Cenla United project for assistance, needs are entered into a software platform called DRIMS (Disaster Response Information Management System) and matched to partner agencies and congregations that are also in the system. The United Way hired two employees to answer calls, enter data, and recruit partner organizations.
Kevin Gebhart, director of the United Way’s Strong Neighborhood Project, said the number of callers increased in the summer as COVID cases began to rise in Central Louisiana.
“It’s everybody, from our police officers to nurses to people struggling on a daily basis.
If you need to quarantine in your house and you need assistance, we are here to help. We are helping every person in Central Louisiana regardless of race, age, color or income. We wanted to make sure everybody was taken care of during this time period.”
Volunteers deliver quarantine kits to people who have tested positive with COVID, or who are caring for loved ones who have it. “We’ll take food, masks, sanitizer, disinfectant spray and other things they need to isolate from each other as a family within their household. So anybody who gets a positive result, if they have needs and can’t go out, we deliver what they need.”
The needs of people impacted by the pandemic are varied. For example, volunteers helped a family battling COVID from a hotel room where they were staying after their house burned down. Gebhart personally delivered water to another family whose water was turned off amid the pandemic.
“Very early on, there were so many senior citizens who couldn’t go to the store so we would take them groceries and say ‘we got you. You don’t need to get out.’ It wasn’t an economic issue at all. It’s just letting our neighbors know that we care,” he said. “It’s been a pretty massive operation, and it’s been driven by the caring nature of our community.”
The grant to the Food Bank of Central Louisiana is being used to feed the increased number of people who have gone hungry as a result of COVID-19. In addition to the high number of cases in Louisiana, the pandemic has brought about job losses and resulting losses in health insurance, making it more difficult for struggling families to put food on their tables.
Feeding America estimates that 1 in 5 people are hungry in Louisiana as a result of the pandemic. In Central Louisiana, eight parishes in the Food Bank’s service area exceed the food insecurity rate for the state, said Linda Hutson, Director of Development & Community Relations.
To meet the increased demand, the Food Bank adapted and expanded its food distribution programs. Some local pantries had to close their doors, not having the capacity to adapt to new pandemic safety guidelines. To fill in the gaps, the Food Bank expanded its daily distribution hours and deployed mobile food distributions to sites across Central Louisiana. “But demand continues to grow, even as local food pantries are beginning to re-open. Fifteen new mobile sites have been added since March, all of which are seeing more and more people at each distribution. Food has run out at some of the most recent mobile distributions, despite in some cases deploying three full trucks of food where there was just one truck three months ago,” Hutson said.
To exacerbate the pandemic’s impact, the cost of food increased as demand increased. “Since March, the average price the Food Bank of Central Louisiana paid for a pound of food has gone up by 30%, making every charitable dollar received more precious in the effort to meet the needs of hungry families during this crisis,” Hutson said.
“The funding from The Rapides Foundation has allowed the Food Bank of Central Louisiana to quickly mobilize and change our distribution methods, add mobile food pantry distribution, and secure food and personal protective equipment to keep our staff and clients safe,” she said. “Even as so many are struggling, the support from The Rapides Foundation has provided necessary funding to allow us to continue our work.”
To learn more about services from the Food Bank of Central Louisiana, call 318-445-2773 or visit www.fbcenla.org.
To learn more about the United Way’s Operation Cenla United project, call 318-528-9776 or visit www.uwcl.org/coronavirus-response-fund. If you’re in need of help of any kind, call 211; for help specific to the pandemic, call 318-221-7791.
The mission of The Rapides Foundation is to improve the health status of Central Louisiana. The Foundation was created in September 1994 as a result of a joint venture partnership between HCA and Rapides Regional Medical Center. The Rapides Foundation is a unique organization that continues its legacy as a healthcare provider through its ownership in Rapides Healthcare System and as a significant grantmaker in Central Louisiana. The Foundation serves nine parishes in the region.