Giving Thought: COVID-10 pandemic endangers more than just our health

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen

It’s been a month since the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 was detected in Pitkin County. And in that month, dramatic changes have taken place in all our lives.

With all but the most essential businesses and organizations shuttered or working remotely (including ACF), government agencies, social service nonprofits, religious organizations and others in the Aspen-to-Parachute region are hyper-focused on helping the area’s most vulnerable residents weather this economic and health disaster.

Reacting to the coronavirus pandemic is unlike any other emergency or disaster response. The threat is invisible; we can’t see it, and, hopefully, not too many of us will experience the virus itself. But like responding to a flood or a fire, it is important that those trying to help are communicating with each other and coordinating their efforts.

Like others in the region, ACF’s focus has been on responding to community needs related to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic and social disruption this has caused. Over the past few weeks ACF has hosted video chats with dozens of our nonprofit, school and government partners to organize our response to virus-related disruptions.

Through these meetings, the participants have identified needs and prioritized response efforts to ensure that individuals and families most impacted by COVID-19 are supported. The current focus is on providing economic assistance and food access for those in need. The organizations providing this type of humanitarian assistance are grappling with the shelter-in-place and social distancing rules but are still getting aid to those who need it. And, as time goes on, more and more people are needing help with rent and utilities and food.

Another typical response during a disaster is to volunteer. And, just like with the Lake Christine Fire, we’ve seen an incredible outpouring of offerings to help. Normally, in-person volunteers would be welcome in a disaster. Not so with a pandemic. Every additional body could potentially transmit the virus. So, as a community, we’re getting creative in how we use volunteers: manning phone lines, calling clients, checking in with neighbors via phone, email or video chat.

Even when the danger of the virus has passed, we’ll still be feeling the effects. The economy is at a near standstill. Many people are unable to report to work; they’re not earning money and therefore are not spending money. Local businesses have furloughed or laid off employees and many non-essential businesses have closed their doors indefinitely. Unemployment claims have spiked across the country.

Nonprofit organizations have canceled events, stopped providing programming and, in some cases, curtailed fundraising, leading many to question whether their operations can be sustained for the time it takes to get back to normal.

U.S. Congress has responded to this situation with the CARES Act, which seeks to “provide emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.” This is one piece of legislation that is worth reading, especially for those who run small businesses or nonprofits. An entire section of the act is devoted to loans for organizations with less than 500 employess to cover payroll, mortgage, utilities and other costs. There’s even a provision for loan forgiveness (yes, you read that correctly) if the loan proceeds are used for specified purposes.

Even with this government assistance, small businesses and nonprofits are looking ahead at rough, risky times. If you’re in a financial position to support these organizations, please do so in any way you can. Your favorite restaurant may not be able to seat you, but you can order takeout and bring your favorite meals home. Or if your favorite retailer has closed or reduced their hours, try emailing them and see if they can fill an order for curbside pickup. Gift certificates are another way to support local businesses and restaurants; buy now, enjoy later. And if you employ them, consider continuing to pay your housekeepers, landscapers, etc. In many cases these workers won’t benefit from government assistance.

Similarly, it’s no secret that this valley has hundreds of nonprofits that do important work in human services, the arts, environmental protection, education, youth success and more. Under current economic circumstances, these vital organizations will certainly struggle for donations. If you have the means, then please consider making that annual donation now. The next few months will be hard ones for fundraising.

Stay safe, stay healthy and practice social distancing.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.