Megan Legacy is CEO of SA Hope Center, which has been feeding 500 families a week since the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Stephanie Marquez for the Rivard Report

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Before school leaders announced closures in mid-March, the SA Hope Center was feeding 100 families a week. Since then, the nonprofit has been providing meals for over 500 households daily, said Megan Legacy, CEO of the nonprofit.

Similarly, before social distancing orders were put in place on March 23, the Bexar County Family Justice Center provided services for domestic violence victims through face-to-face interviews. Today, most of its services are provided online and by phone even as its client numbers have increased, said Rebecca Perez,  programs manager of the Family Justice Center.

Both nonprofits are among the 103 local groups recently granted emergency funding through the COVID-19 Response Fund, administered by the San Antonio Area Foundation and United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County. Funds totaling $3.3 million have been awarded, with money being distributed weekly.

Launched March 20 with $2.7 million in gifts from 24 area private foundations and corporations, including $1 million from the John L. Santikos Fund, the COVID-19 Response Fund now stands at $5.3 million.

An advisory council made up of representatives from both the Area Foundation and United Way, as well as some of their funders, have approved grants weekly. A joint committee evaluates the grant decisions twice a week and awards are wired directly into bank accounts within 10 business days. The grants range from $5,000 to $50,000 with the average amount being $30,824.

The SA Hope Center’s $50,000 grant will be used to pay staff who are keeping up with the increased demand for services and offset canceled fundraising events and a decrease in individual donations caused by donors’ financial constraints.

Legacy said the quick turnaround time on the funding was crucial to keeping her operations running.

“With normal foundation processes, there are several months between [a request and funding],” Legacy said. “In these times, it would be really hard on nonprofits because overnight we needed the money.”

The Family Justice Center had already received a grant from the Area Foundation in December, so the organization didn’t need to apply again. But to provide services remotely, the Family Justice Center needed rapid approval from the Area Foundation to pivot and use grant funds to purchase laptops and cell phones.

“Our grantmaking team is taking a look at those requests and being very amenable to whatever the nonprofit needs to serve its clients right now,” said Rebecca Helterbrand, vice president of strategy and innovation for the Area Foundation.

Other philanthropic groups also are keeping a close eye on how the local nonprofit sector is faring at a time when coronavirus-related shutdowns are boosting demand for social services while limiting fundraising opportunities.

A recent survey from the Social Venture Partners of San Antonio (SVPSA), The Nonprofit Council (TNC), and the United Way found 60 percent of nonprofits polled reported decreased earned revenue, and 66 percent reported that individual donations had declined.

The survey, which collected data from March 30 to April 5, was taken to determine how SVPSA, a local nonprofit that encourages philanthropy and works to strengthen nonprofits by giving grants, can best support those organizations in the wake of the economic downturn widely expected as businesses close and unemployment numbers spike. 

SVPSA already has started helping some nonprofits with technology, reviewing grant requests, and preparing for loan and disaster grant applications, said SVPSA Executive Director Becky Dinnin. Applying for grants may be crucial to the survival of philanthropic organizations, as the majority of nonprofits surveyed said they only have enough to operate for another three to six months.

Eighty-four percent of the 87 area nonprofits surveyed said they experienced disruption of services provided to the community, while 51 percent had increased demand for their services.

Nearly 80 percent of the nonprofits who responded had to cancel fundraising events. Some of San Antonio’s largest staple fundraising events were canceled in March, including the Big Give and Fiesta, which would have started this week.

The TNC-sponsored Big Give is continuing to collect donations on its website for nearly 300 area nonprofits. So far, the fundraising drive has collected $668,000.

The Area Foundation’s collaboration with United Way to develop and manage the COVID-19 Response Fund is a first even though both organizations have long viewed one another as partners, Helterbrand said.

“But the depth and the breadth of this partnership and the intensity has absolutely deepened the relationship that we have with the United Way,” she said.

The idea to join forces was inspired by a collaboration between similar organizations in Seattle, said Marjie French, president and CEO of the Area Foundation.

Both organizations are seeking funding from among their regular donors and working to award grants to the community of nonprofits they support.

“We chose to partner with the San Antonio Area Foundation because we share a common purpose of trying to improve lives in our community,” stated Chris Martin, United Way president and CEO. “It was important for us to show a unified front as we face the most significant crisis our residents have ever encountered in our community.”

A significant boost to the fund came recently from an additional $500,000 gift from philanthropist Harvey Najim, which prompted the John L. Santikos Fund of the Area Foundation to match the amount with another $500,000.

Applications for the Response Fund are available online at www.saafdn.org/covid19fund.

To make a donation of $10 or more to the fund, go to www.helpsatx.org or text HELPSATX to 41444.

Disclosure: The San Antonio Area Foundation is a financial supporter of the Rivard Report. For a full list of supporters, click here.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the business beat reporter at the San Antonio Report.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the San Antonio Report.