United Way Montcalm-Ionia reopens crisis fund in wake of increased COVID-19 cases

United Way Montcalm-Ionia reopens crisis fund in wake of increased COVID-19 cases

By Cory Smith | on November 27, 2020

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, with stay-at-home orders resulting in closed businesses and thousands of residents claiming unemployment, instability — from finances to food security — ran rampant.

Volunteers assist with a United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties sanitizer distribution event earlier this year. United Way has decided to reopen its crisis fund, looking to secure additional funding to assist those in need as coronavirus cases continue to surge. — Submitted photo

As a result, United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties launched a COVID-19 crisis fund to ensure resources were available to those in need of assistance, be it food, childcare or other essential services.

Now seven months on from when that fund was established, while time has passed, the coronavirus has lingered on, with positive cases growing at an exponential rate resulting in additional or re-emerging struggles for many residents.

That’s why United Way has decided to reopen its crisis fund, placing an equal, if not greater focus than this past spring, on providing aid during the pandemic.

“We received some pretty alarming information from both of our health departments that both counties are facing a public health crisis,” United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties Executive Director Terri Legg said. “Our COVID numbers are increasing dramatically, our schools barely have enough staff to keep schools open, small businesses are closing out of precaution and the lack of workforce and of great concern is that our medical facilities are filling to capacity, but we the community have the power to bring these numbers down.”

According to Legg, the original crisis fund was activated on March 13, and exactly seven months to the day, it was re-activated Nov. 13.

With the holiday and winter seasons approaching, Legg said aid is likely needed more now than at any time prior since the pandemic began.

“The need in our counties is increasing with new emerging needs such as the need for winter appeal (winter coats, boots, hats, and mittens), PPE (personal protection equipment), utilities, and housing are still in great need,” she said.

During its initial response, Legg said United Way raised $180,000 that was used to help distribute 53 mobile food trucks, which provided more than $1 million in nutritious food. Additionally, 2,400 rolls of toilet paper were distributed to senior shut-ins, $132,000 was granted in mini grants to local nonprofits and pantries and $115,000 worth of PPE was donated to area schools.

United Way also provided PPE to county Commissions on Aging, IM Kids 3rd Meal, sheriff’s departments, emergency management offices, voting locations and schools.

All donations to the COVID-19 Crisis Fund stay local to Montcalm and Ionia counties to support basic needs.

United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties Board Chairman Dan Mitchel said he’s hopeful that with the response the organization received this past spring and summer, communities will come together once again to help build up the fund.

“I have seen our staff, our donors, our volunteers, and our entire community step up in an unprecedented way,” he said. “With your help, we supported those devastated by the pandemic … We will be facing a changed world for many years to come. Some of those changes are out of our hands, but many of them are within our control. Help us get there by making a gift to the United Way COVID Crisis Fund.”

Visit liveunitedm-i.org for more information or to donate.

In addition to raising funds for those who need assistance, an importance is also being placed by United Way on preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate right here in Montcalm and Ionia counties due to unsafe gatherings, not wearing masks properly, not following social distancing, indoor gathering with friends and families, and holding large functions such as weddings and funerals,” Legg said. “This pandemic will get worse before it gets better if we as a community continue to not follow the CDC, WHO and Health Department guidelines. I am asking that (people) do (their) part — mask up and ask others to mask up.”

Ionia County Health Department and Mid-Michigan District Health Department officials have echoed this stance, asking that people take the virus seriously and follow guidance and restrictions such as the “Pause to Save Lives” epidemic order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services last week.

“Ionia County has seen a substantial increase in the number of new cases since the beginning of October,” Ionia County Health Officer Ken Bowen said. “We have nearly 1,500 new cases since that time, after experiencing 350 total between March and October. The percentage of people who test positive has recently been hovering around 15%. For comparison, that number was approximately 2% on Oct. 1. Hospital and health department staff are all struggling to keep up and we have concerns about additional spread over the holidays.”