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Here's how Lancaster County nonprofits are dealing with the economic impact of COVID-19

Aerial Lancaster city during shutdown

Drone photography taken between 11 a.m. and noon on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, shows empty streets surrounding Penn Square in Lancaster. This photo was taken at King and Queen streets. The Griest Building is at left and the Lancaster County Convention Center at right. 

As federal lawmakers worked into the early hours of Thursday to pass the nation’s largest economic relief package in history, nonprofit leaders in Lancaster County were announcing their own plans to assist the most vulnerable throughout the community.

“We (Lancaster County) are resilient,” Sam Bressi, said president and CEO of Lancaster County Community Foundation. “We’re 'roll up your sleeves, get to work, get it done' type folks.”

 And that’s what they did.

 This week, The Lancaster County Community Foundation and United Way of Lancaster County announced Lancaster Cares, a fund established to address the immediate needs of families. It launched with a lead gift of $250,000 from the foundation.

 Tabor and Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership, which announced plans of a merger earlier this month, are creating resources for homeowners, renters, landlords and those experiencing homelessness as they anticipate a challenging housing market ahead.

Here’s what their plans look like.

A flexible fund for an emerging crisis

The Community Foundation and United Way say the goal of the newly established Lancaster Cares fund is to “support Lancaster County families by delivering basic needs during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The fund is collected through community donations at the crowdfunding site LancoCares.Org and is administered by the Community Foundation and United Way to organizations that are already working in the areas of food security, housing and homelessness and other emerging responses that may be unique to COVID-19.

“Working through these key partners and their connections to various organizations in the community, we’ll be able to turn dollars into resources quickly,” Bressi said. “There’s so much need and there’s room for all of us to help.”

The United Way is acting as the connection to the organizations that are already on the front lines of the nonprofit community’s response to the increased need for services as the number of vulnerable families in Lancaster continues to rise. 

“It’s great to be in a community that’s filled with individuals that immediately pulled together,” said Kevin Ressler, President and CEO of United Way.

Ressler said he’s “extremely impressed” by the nonprofit organizations in Lancaster that have continued to provide everyday services even as demands grew and funding and donations dwindled in the new economic climate.

With the creation of this fund, some of the stress of fundraising can be lifted and “nonprofits can just focus on serving as many people as they can provide support to,” Ressler said.

The flexibility of the fund was important to the organizations because legislation takes time to pass and aid bills are often tied to specific needs. The fund’s emerging responses category is created to shift as areas of need arise in coming months.

“This fund isn’t about just one day,” he said.

Resources to navigate what comes next

Leaders from both Tabor and the housing partnership have been working together to create an effective and holistic response to upcoming housing challenges, said Mike McKenna, Tabor president.

A series of videos and fact sheets will be available online and through service providers that will help people navigate the unique circumstances they’re finding themselves in, McKenna said.

“So if you’re a homeowner and you’re concerned about your mortgage payments, here’s what your options are, here’s how you can have a conversation with your lender, do you have options like a forbearance agreement?” McKenna explained.

McKenna said Tabor is reaching out to the partner lenders at regional banks to find out who the best contact is in their business and what their process is. All resources will be available on Tabor’s website and social media.

In addition, Tabor is looking at the federal stimulus bill that would send checks to 150 million households and is reaching out to the community with the message of, “give us a call, a 20 minute counseling session, we can help you really make the most of that influx of cash and come up with a plan,” McKenna said.

“Our hope is people will use the resources we’re pulling together — from our in-house experts and resources lenders and government agencies are posting — first and then, with your specific questions, give us a call,” he said. 

Looking ahead, the organization is examining its capacity to ramp up eviction-prevention counseling, foreclosure-prevention counseling and client assistance funds. Currently, the existing funds are focused on helping clients at Tabor’s Transitional Living Center who may have lost income cover their expenses. 

“We kind of have an instinct when times get tough and we’re afraid we’re not going to be able to make a payment or something, we kind of go into hiding,” McKenna said. “But really what we’re encouraging is for people to be proactive and communicate with their landlords, their mortgage lenders and with their car loan holders.”

“Everyone has been affected by COVID-19, so most organizations are trying to figure out ways to help,” he said.