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Omaha-area nonprofits stabilizing, but some still reeling from COVID pandemic's financial hit
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Omaha-area nonprofits stabilizing, but some still reeling from COVID pandemic's financial hit

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Nebraska nonprofits surveyed said they anticipate losing a combined $15.5 million in 2021 due to the effects of COVID.

In a typical year, Food Bank for the Heartland might spend an average of about $225,000 a month on food. That’s as a supplement to donations from the public and food received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other entities.

But because of increased need in the community due to the coronavirus pandemic, the food bank is spending about $1.5 million a month on food.

Thanks to community support and donations, the food bank’s finances have remained stable throughout the pandemic.

“The community stepping up was phenomenal,” said Travis Carlson, a food bank spokesman. “We just consider ourselves tremendously fortunate in that regard.”

The local nonprofit sector is reporting that finances are starting to level out, according to the latest survey results from the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands. But many organizations are still reeling from the financial hits taken during the pandemic.

The Nonprofit Association of the Midlands collected information from 159 nonprofits in Nebraska and southwest Iowa for the survey, which was done in April. Surveys also were conducted in mid-March, April and October 2020.

The most recent data shows that most nonprofits anticipate being financially stable again in the next one to two years.

Nebraska nonprofits surveyed said they anticipate losing a combined $15.5 million in 2021 because of the effects of COVID-19.

“Nonprofits are taking care of the most vulnerable people in our communities. With that, they need more resources,” said Hannah Young, a spokeswoman for the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands.

On the positive side, some nonprofits have been able to implement virtual programming and training during the pandemic. That, Young said, has led to new ways to reach clients and expanded services.

Many nonprofits had to cancel fundraisers, programs and events last year that led to a loss in revenue. Nonprofits also saw increased demand for services, particularly nonprofits serving families with food or housing assistance.

Several nonprofits received funding assistance from federal COVID-19 relief programs and local or community foundations.

Other highlights from the survey include:

About 35% of nonprofits already have returned to the office.

Fewer nonprofits are canceling major events or fundraisers this year. More than half of nonprofits surveyed canceled in 2020. This year, 17.6% reported cancellations.

The majority of nonprofits — 43.7% — said their organizations should be able to overcome challenges presented by the pandemic with no long-term impacts.

About 34% reported feeling more stable than they did at this time last year. Nearly 16% of nonprofits said they feel less stable.

Amplify Arts, a small nonprofit that assists artists through grants and other projects, didn’t take much of a hit during the pandemic, said Andy Saladino, executive director.

The organization shuffled around existing money and did smaller-scale fundraising, Saladino said. That allowed the group to double the monetary amount of grants issued in 2020.

Many artists lost their income with the cancellation of workshops and lessons, Saladino said.

“We saw a huge need from the artist community,” Saladino said. “We were trying to fill that gap as much as we could.”

While Food Bank for the Heartland hasn’t struggled financially, people the organization serves are still struggling. Rising gas and food prices, along with kids being home for the summer, may have offset some financial progress folks have made, Carlson said.

The organization had to shift to a mobile pantry program. Instead of families being able to choose their food, food is boxed up and loaded into their vehicles.

“It’s great from a convenience standpoint,” Carlson said. “But it removes that choice, which from a dignity standpoint is something we really like to be able to provide.”

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A volunteer moves packed boxes of shelf-stable food at Food Bank for the Heartland on Friday.

The food bank also cut the number of volunteers in half for each shift to be able to practice social distancing.

In the last year, Food Bank for the Heartland has distributed more than 38 million meals — an 89% increase over the average of the previous four years. Officials at the Omaha-based nonprofit weren’t expecting to see numbers like that until 2028, according to projected metrics that factor in population growth. But the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the need in the Omaha metro area.

Randy McCoy, executive director of Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless, or MACCH, said the organization has been fortunate in terms of operating funds. But it has seen an uptick in demand.

The organization had some government grants in place to cover operating funds through 2020, McCoy said. And because they don’t organize large fundraising events, not much had to shift in terms of planning.

But MACCH, like many other nonprofits, had to take on more work while juggling its own needs.

“We had to pivot a lot during the last year,” McCoy said. “A lot of other nonprofits did the same thing.”


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