Strategic response fund provides relief in southern Delaware

June 25, 2020

COVID-19 has hit Southern Delaware hard, affecting not only individuals and families, but also the nonprofit organizations that improve quality of life in Kent and Sussex counties by providing services ranging from housing and food to the arts and education.

As the communities’ needs rose during the pandemic – with heightened unemployment, greater food insecurity, and the demand for virtual education and healthcare, to name a few – nonprofits lost resources as they were forced to cancel fundraisers and saw individual donations dwindle.

But Kent and Sussex County nonprofits have served the community well, thanks in part to support from the Delaware COVID-19 Strategic Response Fund, a partnership of the Delaware Community Foundation and Philanthropy Delaware.

Since March 27, the fund has provided $2.5 million in grants – including more than $750,000 to organizations exclusively serving Kent and Sussex counties – to nonprofits providing telehealth services, meal delivery to homebound elderly, supplies for disabled veterans, emergency housing for women and children in abusive households, and more.

Stories from the applications can be heartbreaking, said Allison Taylor Levine, foundation vice president for marketing and communications.

“The original plan was for the Strategic Response Fund to address the community’s longer-term needs related to the pandemic,” Levine said. “But when we saw the needs in the applications, we realized that the bulk of the money had to go to critical services. Food. Housing. Healthcare, and particularly mental health care, has been overwhelmed.”

Among the grantees was Sussex County Habitat for Humanity, which received a $40,000 grant to complete two houses and provide emergency mortgage relief for families that lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

"Emergency funding from the COVID-19 Strategic Response Fund was essential to keep our organization building through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kevin Gilmore, Habitat executive director. “We were able to roof-in two homes in Milton to protect them from the elements. Without this, rain and moisture would have damaged the wood frame already constructed. We were also able to finish construction of two other homes in Sussex County. Two families will be able to purchase their homes months before they would have if no emergency funding was received."

The Strategic Response Fund has paid particular attention to low-income and historically underrepresented communities, which have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. First State Community Action Agency in Georgetown received $40,000 to provide for basic needs of low-income families. “First State Community Action Agency has been one of our most dependable partners in helping to the meet the need of our most vulnerable populations,” said Mike DiPaolo, DCF vice president for southern Delaware. “Their trusted position in the community has allowed us to reach both broadly and deeply in Sussex.”

In Kent County, Dover’s Modern Maturity Center plays a critical role in the state capital area and in coordinating work for the elderly and other disadvantaged populations across central Delaware. Strategic Response Fund grants are helping the center and numerous other senior centers ensure that older Delawareans have healthy meals. Modern Maturity volunteers received a timely assist from Delaware National Guard soldiers during an emergency food distribution event May 13, when 20 active-duty soldiers delivered hundreds of food boxes to Meals on Wheels clients. Volunteers delivered more than 1,500 meals around Kent County that day.

While the fund initially focused on the overwhelming requests to meet critical human needs, grant making has expanded in recent weeks to support the arts, environment, pets and more. Among recent southern Delaware grantees are Clear Space Theatre Company, Arise Delaware and Rehoboth Art League.

“Receiving support from the DCF’s COVID-19 Fund allowed the art league to continue on until we can get to our summer season, which is critical for us from a programming and financial basis,” said Sara Ganter, Rehoboth Art League executive director.

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