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story.lead_photo.caption Kids decorate coloring sheets and watch television in one of the classrooms at the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson City on Aug. 5, 2020. Behind them is one of the club's large blue room partitions; about seven or eight kids were on one side, and about the same amount were on the other. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Way of Central Missouri distributed $50,000 to help local health and human service agencies stay afloat during the disaster.

Within days, the nonprofit was organizing numerous funds to help people weather the public health crisis.

On March 20, the day it announced the Emergency COVID-19 Grant, the local United Way also announced and began laying the groundwork for the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, the first of three funds intended to help Central Missouri through the pandemic. A short time later, Fechtel Beverage and Sales and the United Way started the Central Missouri Food Service Industry Relief Fund, and about three weeks later, Bartlett & West and the United Way began the Central Missouri Medical Personnel Relief Fund.

In all, generous donors had contributed more than $242,000 combined to the three funds as of last week, according to United Way President Ann Bax.

The United Way dispersed COVID-19 Response and Recovery grants to 24 agencies Aug. 4.

Technically, it had issued several of the grants early.

"The Boys & Girls Club (of Jefferson City) came to us because they could not open up for summer camp until they had some partitions to further divide their classrooms and make them smaller," Bax said.

The United Way Board decided to issue a grant of about $5,000 to the club out of the fund early so it could distribute more money from United Way Community Support grants to other agencies. Community support grants are offered when the United Way surpasses its fundraising goals and has extra money available. Last year, the local nonprofit exceeded its goal by about $225,000.

For the summer camp, the Boys & Girls Club was required to reduce group sizes for its children to 15 or fewer, according to Stephanie Johnson, the club's chief executive officer.

The partitions created more rooms but also created hallways so staff could move children through the building without intermingling with other groups.

"More than anything, it controls movement," Johnson said. "When school starts, we'll move them around again."

The one-time Response and Recovery grants were intended to address capacity or operational challenges for new or existing programs.

Response and Recovery funding came from donations from numerous individuals, organizations and foundations — including the Missouri Foundation for Health, which saw that the United Way of Central Missouri is uniquely positioned to identify and assist agencies during the pandemic. The Foundation for Health contributed $100,000 toward the fund for local response and recovery.

The foundation formed in 2000 through funding provided by the conversion of Blue Cross Blue Shield from a nonprofit to a for-profit company. It works with communities and nonprofits to generate positive changes in health throughout Missouri.

The United Way opened the grant opportunities to any health and human service 501(c)(3) organization within its service area in June. The local agency serves Camden, Cole, Maries, Miller, Moniteau, Morgan, Osage, Phelps and southern Callaway counties.

To contribute to any of the funds or to apply for grants, go to unitedwaycemo.org or call 573-636-4100.

People working in the food service industry who were affected by the pandemic should look into the Central Missouri Food Service Industry Relief Fund.

It is intended to offer critical financial aid to the members of the "on-premise" food service industries in Central Missouri. Applicants must work in the restaurant or bar service industry within the United Way service area. They must have experienced a financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic (such as a place of employment closing, either permanently or temporarily). They must have experienced reduced income because of reduced working hours, or loss of income because they or a family member required care during quarantine. Applications should include a bill or invoice for mortgage, rent, utility or auto payments.

Other stipulations include:

- Gifts cannot exceed $300.

- A maximum of two gifts per person are allowed in 2020 (applicants are eligible for a second request 60 days from approval of first).

- Funds are to be paid directly to creditors.

- Bills or invoices and pay stubs are required.

- Recipients cannot be an owner or registered agent of an establishment.

- Applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis while funding lasts.

The Food Service Industry Relief Fund has taken in $60,405 and distributed $33,492.76 to 118 recipients.

Each year, the United Way conducts a fundraising campaign to generate funds for its 28 local partner agencies. The nonprofit also requires its partners to raise their own funds. That money is generally used for all operational costs.

The Response and Recovery grants were distributed to agencies regardless of whether they were partner agencies. They also were intended to help offset shortages of funds for operations.

"(The United Way) typically doesn't provide funding for just operational costs," Bax said. "The funding has to be for programming."

But this has not been a typical year.

Child care and senior centers have been unable to do any fundraising during the pandemic, she said.

"In this environment, just to keep the doors open, they have to raise funds. So many have lost revenue through lack of fundraising — especially senior centers," Bax said.

Of the 24 Response and Recovery grants awarded Aug. 4, five (totaling $22,220) were specifically to support agencies' operations — for ABLE Commission Inc., which serves as the Phelps County region's senior center; California Nutrition Center, which serves seniors; Dreams to Reality, supporting women in transition with appropriate work attire; El Puente Hispanic Ministry, promoting human dignity and supporting the Hispanic community; and the YMCA Child Development Center, offering child care and education for newborns to pre-kindergarten.

The United Way has issued three phases of grants since the beginning of the pandemic, Bax said.

"And we still don't know what things are going to look like," she said. "How long is it going to be around, and what's the true impact going to be?"

Hopefully, she said, the grants will help recipients over the next several months — for the long term.

The most recent grants are meeting agencies' and their clients' most basic needs.

Several of the grants awarded Aug. 4 went to agencies to assist with housing and bills — The Salvation Army of Jefferson City ($10,000 for rent and utility assistance), Common Ground Community Building ($10,000 for rent and utility assistance and other basic needs), RACS ($7,000 for transitional housing), and Missouri Faith Voices ($7,000 assistance for housing low-income).

It could be said that grants issued to River City Habitat for Humanity ($11,600) and Central Missouri Community Action ($10,000) also went for immediate housing needs.

The Habitat for Humanity grant was awarded to assure the agency can complete construction of eight houses by the end of the year. Habitat for Humanity is building twice as many houses as it normally does this year to replace a little of the housing lost in the May 2019 tornado that struck Jefferson City.

Central Missouri Community Action received the United Way Grant so it can continue the part-time employment of a disaster recovery coordinator who was initially hired to assist survivors of the tornado and 2019 flooding.

"We're just blessed to have such a rich, diverse network of agencies that come forward to address the gaps in services that we could never have anticipated," Bax said. "We've never been on a journey like this before."

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