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Omaha Community Foundation launches philanthropic fund for COVID recovery

Omaha Community Foundation launches philanthropic fund for COVID recovery

Gov. Pete Ricketts discusses how he thinks Nebraska will fare with the lessening of the pandemic.

The Omaha Community Foundation has launched a new fund aimed at addressing chronic local problems that the COVID-19 pandemic has made worse.

The Community Resilience Fund will use private donations to help nonprofit organizations working on five issues. Those are educational achievement gaps, arts and culture, housing, mental health, and workforce and economic opportunity.

The fund will focus on organizations and people they serve who have been disproportionately affected by consequences of COVID-19, but will continue to exist to meet needs when future calamities arise.

The Community Resilience Fund started with $150,000 in seed money.

The idea for the new fund springs in part from the Community Foundation’s 2020 involvement in pandemic response. The foundation distributed $30 million in federal CARES Act funding, mostly to nonprofit social service groups, but also including arts and culture venues, under a contract with Douglas County. The foundation’s initial Community Response Fund also raised $1.5 million from more than 6,000 donors in 2020, and provided assistance to 51 nonprofit groups, the foundation said.

Overall, the number of donations to the Community Foundation went up 26% in 2020, and the amount of donations doubled to $200 million from the prior year, said Donna Kush, CEO of the foundation.

“People really stepped up when they saw the need and took action in a big way,” she said.

The donations made a difference, she said, “but there’s still a lot of need out there.”

Kush said the five issues that are prioritized by the Community Resilience Fund existed before the pandemic — and were exacerbated by it. Federal stimulus and other government COVID relief funding may not reach those problems. The new fund aims to fill some of those gaps.

For example, the federal government has issued a couple rounds of rental assistance funding for people financially hurt by the pandemic. But Omaha has an ongoing shortage of affordable housing, said Anne Meysenburg, director of community investment for the foundation.

The switch to remote learning last March and through much of this school year was difficult and led to learning losses for many students, especially those with less access to technology and other issues, Meysenburg said. School districts and nonprofit groups adjusted, but work remains to catch up. And opportunity exists to do something more about the ongoing issue.

Similiarly, the pandemic exacerbated mental health problems and the need for more local services to help people with them. People were thrown out of work by the pandemic and the community needs more job training to help people retool. Arts and culture organizations lost the performance revenue they need to keep providing the art and culture that the community needs.

“As we consider the long-term effects from job loss, distance learning, evictions and more, we as a community have an opportunity to help those that were most disproportionately impacted rebuild in an an equitable, sustainable way,” Meysenburg said.

Nonprofits in Douglas, Sarpy, and Pottawattamie Counties are eligible to apply for grants from the fund.

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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