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story.lead_photo.caption Representatives from 25 local agencies, including 12 United Way partner agencies, receive community support grants Tuesday from the United Way of Central Missouri at the Senior Nutrition Council of Jefferson City and Cole County. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

The United Way of Central Missouri awarded 25 community support grants to local agencies Tuesday.

The ceremony happened as the region continues to rally and overcome ongoing flooding and a May 22 tornado that raked through Eldon and Jefferson City. After months of consideration and weeks of vetting applicants for the grants, the United Way had decided on the 25 recipients of nearly $200,000 the day before the tornado, Director Ann Bax said during a Tuesday news conference.

The organization had a decision to make — whether to proceed with the process or to set the money aside to help with immediate and long-term disaster recovery.

The nonprofit announced in February it had exceeded its fundraising goal for 2018 by about $200,000 and made a record $197,334 available for one-time community service grants.

The grants are investments the organization makes to address immediate, critical unmet needs or to support challenges to emerging needs in the seven counties it serves — Cole, Moniteau, Osage, Miller, Morgan, Camden and southern Callaway.

The money available for the grants stunned and excited the nonprofit's leaders.

The grants were not only available for the United Way's partner agencies but for any health and human services 501(c)(3) agency that met criteria.

Forty applicants requested more than $600,000 from the grants.

The morning of May 22, letters to applicants were prepared, with postage in place. But, at about 11 p.m., an EF-1 tornado developed south of Eldon. The storm moved through the town and began to pick up strength. It was an EF-2 as it moved into Cole County. The tornado traveled 19.4 miles, eventually striking eastern Jefferson City. Having increased in strength to an EF-3 at 11:45 p.m., it hit the city, causing a 3-mile path of damage before crossing the Missouri River and dissipating.

"We took a pause on Thursday and talked about 'What do we do now?' We vetted these grant requests and we believe in them and we know they're important. We know that the work still goes on, despite the tragedy," Bax said. "The work still goes on, and we want to support that."

So the United Way called on its foundation — developed in 2003 as a safety net. Annual campaign money goes right back into the community. But the foundation gave $200,000 to the United Way to meet critical needs, allowing the organization to move ahead with the planned community support grants.

"It's appropriate to talk a little bit about community support and what we just endured two weeks ago," Bax said. "Something like a catastrophe that happens and affects our entire community, such as a tornado and floods. It's during these times that we understand and appreciate the work of our partner agencies — all of you that we partner with — and the volunteers in our community as a whole."

United Way Board Chairman Chip Webb said the support, donations, volunteer effort and aid the organization received following the tornado has overwhelmed him.

"Your United Way has taken a leadership role in our recovery. We have mobilized more than 1,000 volunteer deployments, served as a location to collect supplies and distribute them and helped secure material donations from our suppliers to meet immediate needs," Webb said. "Staff and volunteers have provided guidance, help and hugs to those impacted."

The United Way takes the responsibility of being the trusted source for monetary oversight and distribution of donations seriously, he said.

Its partner agencies stepped up after the tornado and continue to meet needs, Webb said.

The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri immediately deployed its mobile food pantry to feed displaced residents. The Salvation Army did what it does best by providing food, shelter and clothing, Webb said. The Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City opened its doors so any parents could drop off their children during the day while they dealt with the aftermath of the tornado. Compass Health Network provided counseling services for multiple individuals and families to address the trauma.

"And, of course, the city's forever grateful to the American Red Cross. They were here on day one and helped us address the issues that were right there in front of us," Webb said.

It is impossible to prepare for the scenes residents face following a disaster when they are intimately familiar with the way a community looked prior to the event, Bax said.

"To see it. To feel it," she said. "This kind of devastation — in your very own know-it-like-the-back-of-your-hand community."

There may be no better time than now for the United Way of Central Missouri to award its community support grants. This year, the United Way said it would give priority to grants applications that went toward improving or serving the community's behavioral health concerns.

Twelve of the United Way's 25 partner agencies received the one-time Community Service Grants during the ceremony held outside the Senior Nutrition Council of Jefferson City and Cole County:

The Senior Nutrition Council received $9,200 to purchase two new reach-in freezers to expand the agency's ability to provide meals for seniors.

The Red Cross received $4,989 for new scales for blood donations.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson City received $9,479 for staffing that would revitalize an initiative to mobilize 300 state employees to accept a mentoring challenge.

The Boys & Girls Club received $7,833 for a bullet-resistant-rated film, a bullet-resistant-rated reception window and a panic button to be installed under the reception counter. It would also be used for staff safety training.

Compass Health Network received $17,895 for therapy training and equipment and to support the cost of having a clinical marriage and family therapist supervisor in the Jefferson City outpatient clinic. The intent is to hire more marriage and family therapists who could address substance use disorder, mental illness and trauma.

The Council for Drug Free Youth received $10,000 to help it purchase a Mega Lung — a medical inflatable device that demonstrates the effects of lung trauma and disease.

The Jefferson City Rape & Abuse Crisis Service received $9,566 to help reinforce a retaining wall surrounding the children's playground and to support the Green House Project, which teaches RACS clients gardening, food preservation and canning.

Little Explorers Discovery Center received $3,483 for Conscious Discipline training and parenting classes — teaching skills that create a safe, connected, problem-solving environment for families.

The Special Learning Center received $15,000 to be used as matching funds for two handicapped-accessible vehicles.

The Food Bank received $4,410 for the purchase of an "Electric Walkie Pallet Truck" and eight workshop stools that will help Cole County Buddy Pack move into its new location on Missouri Boulevard.

The Salvation Army received $10,350 to replace the windows in the 20-year-old Center of Hope structure.

The YMCA Child Development Center received $5,200 to provide training in Conscious Discipline.

Thirteen non-partner agencies also received the one-time grants:

Alzheimer's Association of Greater Missouri received $3,000 to support educational workshops and community outreach for a year.

Anne Marie Project received $16,610 to provide information and education in areas of underage drinking, illegal drugs, mental health and faith to youth. Julie Gramlich, Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish youth minister and organization founder, said it's immediate intention is to offer programs locally for people affected by the tornado and flooding. It will also offer programs intended to inform people about suicide, drug or alcohol dependence, and trauma.

Children's Learning Center of Camden County received $4,066 to buy a new commercial dishwasher so the organization continues to meet sanitation guidelines.

Citizens Against Domestic Violence received $15,000 to help cover the cost of a van to transport people to the agency's shelter.

Common Ground Community Building received $5,500 to support one family in the Families Forward Rapid Re-housing program.

Day Solutions Foundation received $10,000 — supporting a program that provides people with disabilities resources to actively access their communities.

El Puente — Hispanic Ministry received $1,800 for a laptop, projector and portable screen to enhance programming.

Healing Horses Therapeutic Riding Program received $5,350 to purchase riding saddles, helmets and pads.

Independent Living Resource Center received $11,120 to buy a virtual driving experience to train clients how to drive in a safe environment.

Kids Harbor received $4,450 to provide a 10-week course for parents and families that leads to the prevention of child abuse or neglect.

Lake Area Industries Inc. received $2,500 to open a Healthy Choices concession stand for employees to use in conjunction with the Special Olympics Health and Wellness program.

Special Olympics of Missouri received $7,500 for sensory equipment and to fund its Strong Minds program.

UCP Heartland-Gibbs Center for Independence received $3,000 to support an outdoor gardening program.