Grand Haven

United Way offers opportunities to help during coronavirus crisis

Ottawa County nonprofits have come together to launch a new website that offers a place people can find help or volunteer to help as the fallout of the coronavirus crisis impacts more residents daily.

The response to the new website, careottawacounty.com, has been nothing short of fantastic, says Patrick Moran, regional president of the United Way for Ottawa and Allegan counties.

More than 250 people signed up to volunteer and $90,000 has been raised in less than a week.

“People are really looking to help,” says Moran, adding that the nonprofits are figuring out how to put the volunteers to work in a way that supports social distancing. That strategy is considered key to reducing the spread of the respiratory virus that has killed more than 8,000 people around the globe.

Raising funds

“We are working with partners to see how this can be done when you can’t have more than five or six volunteers in a room," Moran says. “Everything we used to do in an efficient and effective way we can’t because of social distancing and places are no longer open.”

Ottawa county nonprofits launch the web page careottawacounty.com to connect people with resources and ways to help those impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The money raised so far has primarily come from The Greater Ottawa County United Way, Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, and Lakeshore Nonprofit Alliance

The goal is to raise more money to help those in need.

“Every day, we are going out to companies and individuals, and working with anybody who wants to help financially in this area,” Moran says. 

The first half of the funds have been designated to distribute food to students who normally receive meals from school and people who lost their jobs as businesses closed or reduced their hours. 

Live response

Another challenge has been the loss of older volunteers, who are considered more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus and have been encouraged to stay in their homes. 

“The people who are going to be affected are going to be affected in the next two weeks. They are going to need things like rent assistance and all the things that come along with what is basically a shutdown,” says Moran. “That’s why I call it a live response. We are looking at what is happening and addressing it as it comes up, I would say, literally, every couple of hours.”

Patrick Moran meets with other nonprofit leaders to discuss how to meet community needs in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Focusing on emergency needs

Within hours of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordering the closure of schools across Michigan for at least three weeks on March 13, United Way began putting a plan in place. 

“We've been working on how we can still fulfill the needs of our clients and our donors and our partners when everything's supposed to be shut down,” explains Moran.

In response, United Way created an online process for its annual tax preparation support and for the community investment process, which usually involves about 100 volunteers touring nonprofits to make funding decisions. 

“We are assessing the process right now and are likely to put the funding decisions on hold in the meantime,” Moran says, adding the focus now is on providing emergency grants to support nonprofits that are seeing a dramatic ramp-up in demand for services.

“We are trying to figure out with the agencies what needs have changed and how we can help without putting people in harm's way. It sounds simple at first, but when you put the logistics in place, it’s complicated.”

Website for Allegan

A similar effort is underway with the Allegan County United Way, which is also launching a website to connect people with services and volunteer opportunities.

“We want a place for people to be able to say, when the need pops up, ‘I'm ready to help,’” Moran says. “You can register to be a volunteer. We're kind of putting everybody into this bucket. And then, as needs arise, such as food distribution or day care help, we've got a pre-existing bucket of volunteers.”

The crisis has forced the United Way to find different ways to bring people together to do good.

One of the first issues the nonprofits are tackling is making sure children are taken care of if they suddenly find themselves without the structure and support of their schools.

“Our partners are actually creating new structures by which they get their work done,” Moran says. “Fortunately, our community is fantastic at responding in a very collaborative, very giving way.”

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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