United Way pushing past COVD-19

While the coronavirus continues to impact Arkansas and beyond, it has failed to completely stand in the way of the busy staff, volunteers and supporters of one Fort Smith nonprofit, according to one official.

The United Way of Fort Smith Area and its community partners are still helping the community, and they’re getting the word out on new tools and a new plan to help make the region healthier, safer and happier, said Eddie Lee Herndon, president and CEO for the nonprofit. These tools include the COVID-19 Response Fund and the 2-1-1 call center, he said.

“We tried to be conscientious with what people went through last year with the 500-year flood,” Herndon said. “We came through that, and we thought that we would have a chance to take a breath, but then COVID-19 happened.

“So many people have been furloughed or laid off, so we created the COVID-19 Response Fund, which will give us the ability to help agencies that are on the front line,” he added. “And this isn’t just for United Way agencies. Any nonprofit can apply for the COVID-19 Response Fund’s micro-grants, which are $1,000 each.”

Those wishing to apply for the micro-grants can visit UnitedWayFortSmith.org, fill out a brief application and list the nonprofit’s needs and intended outcomes, Herndon said. Later, applicants will be asked to show their results, he said.

So far, 12 agencies have applied for what United Way officials are calling “Phase-One Funding,” which includes the first round of the micro-grants, Herndon said. A committee including community members has been assembled to review the applications for the funds and decide which nonprofits will receive the grants, he said.

“We’re expecting the Phase One recipients to be determined soon, and they will receive that first round of funding,” Herndon said.

People who want to donate to the COVID-19 Response Fund can mail a check to: United Way of Fort Smith Area, 120 N. 13th St., Fort Smith, AR 72901. Donors also can go to UnitedWayFortSmith.org, hit the “donate now” button and then click the “COVID-19 Response” button.

“People also can text 91999, and there they can donate $5, $10, $20 or another amount,” Herndon said. “One individual gave $2,000 to the relief fund.

“As we receive more funds for the COVID-19 Response Fund, we will go to Phase Two,” he added. “We hope to open up the portal next week and take additional donations. We’re hoping to make the Phase Two grant amounts larger than the $1,000 micro-grants later, but we don’t want to count the eggs before they’re actually in the basket.”

Anyone living in Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Logan and Scott counties and needing assistance with a variety of needs can call the United Way’s 2-1-1 call center. By dialing 2-1-1, callers can obtain free and confidential crisis and emergency counseling, food, disaster assistance, health care and insurance assistance, stable housing and utilities payment assistance, veteran services, employment services, and childcare and family services.

“Through a collaboration with United Way here and in northwest Arkansas, we were able to bring 2-1-1 to the area,” Herndon said. “It’s like 9-1-1, and people can call 2-1-1 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and there’s bilingual operators who are fluent in 40 different languages.”

United Way officials and others also are looking at the possibility of having an emergency shelter that could help homeless people who test positive for COVID-19, he said.

“This is only in the planning stages, but we are collaborating to see what our options can be,” Herndon said. “We’ll know more later.”

Despite “this challenging time for the entire community,” United Way agencies have “rallied” to support others, he said.

“We have so many great directors, partners and staff who make this happen,” Herndon said.

Salvation Army

Those working and volunteering at the Salvation Army are continuing to give food bags to those in need from 9-11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the agency, 301 N. Sixth St. Each recipient is required to show ID and can obtain one food bag per month, said Capt. Staci Gainey with the Salvation Army.

“We’re also giving snacks and hydration to first responders to show we appreciate them so much,” she said. “Initially, we did see food donations decrease, and we were worried about food until the River Valley Food Bank called last week and delivered food.

“But we do want everyone to know that we’re still asking for food and hygiene product donations,” Gainey added. “We’re excited about how we can help people in this time.”

Next Step, Hope Campus, Boys & Girls Club

Representatives with Next Step Homeless Services have stayed busy feeding people in need outdoors, and Hope Campus has been working closely with the area’s homeless population, Herndon said.

“The Fort Smith Boys & Girls Club and United Way got together recently, and Jerry Glidewell and his team were feeding children on the weekend,” he said. “We had 2,000 backpacks of food handed out to the Boys & Girls Club.

“And the Van Buren Boys & Girls Club were delivering food boxes to those in need in rural areas, and there’s been some great collaborative efforts with the Salvation Army and others,” Herndon added. “The Clearinghouse and Food Bank provided meals and snacks at Greenwood schools.”

Although United Way community partners continue to provide services, the public’s donations are still needed to make sure those in need can benefit, he said.

“Donations to the COVID-19 Response Fund can help with all of these things,” Herndon said. “Some of these employees who have been laid off or furloughed in the community recently have been long-time supporters of United Way.

“We want to give back,” he added. “All we ask is, people push their support and money back to the community. Anything that’s a little extra that a person may have in this time that a person can give, it can help. We’re so blessed to have a community that steps up and provides resources and support.”