Maine nonprofit and grassroots organizations from Kittery to Caribou knew how to act quickly when COVID-19 arrived in Maine.  “During a time of crisis,” said one community organizer, “we show up for one another because it is our duty.”

Erin Reed, executive director of Trinity Jubilee Center in Lewiston, and Jon Tibbetts of the Lewiston Housing Authority load Thanksgiving meals into the back of Tibbetts’ truck at the center Nov. 25. Fifty-two meals were prepared in the Trinity soup kitchen for elderly people in need, Reed said. Like many other Maine Community Foundation grant recipients, Trinity has seen the need for its services increase. The housing authority contacted Reed at the beginning of the pandemic about seniors who could not get out on their own. What started at 20 meals for six days a week increased to 52 meals a day. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Month after month, we at the Maine Community Foundation watched with awe as these organizations deployed donations, staff and volunteer muscle and creative resources to continue their work. They, in turn, saw needs soar as more and more people asked for help – so many for the first time.

Today many of those charitable organizations are at a tipping point, and some may not survive. Uncertainty, instability and snowballing needs for assistance are the biggest worries they cited in a recent survey of grantees of the Maine Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

A summer of social distancing curbed fundraising and revenue that sustained their budgets. “It is a constant fear,” wrote one grantee, “that we will not be able to meet the increased need and that we will have to start turning community members away.”

As nonprofit organizations watched their resources dwindle, they also witnessed the toll of this economic crisis on families across the state. “For some,” reported one grantee, their former livable wages have been drastically reduced, forcing them to drain their savings accounts and rely on credit cards for basic expenses.”

Families, like the nonprofit organizations, have shown great resilience even as they struggle to keep their balance. Unpredictable federal aid, an uncertain future and the growing weight of pandemic health risks only add to daily demands of child care, remote classes and making a living wage.

Nonprofit organizations say they’ll have to make tough choices about what to do. “We can’t do it all, even though it is all so important,” another nonprofit grantee wrote. “Where can vulnerable people turn?”

Winter is never easy in Maine, but its impact in 2021 will be severe. Food insecurity was already higher here than the national average before the pandemic. Today, Maine’s estimated 16.1 percent food insecurity rate is 25 percent higher than when the health crisis began, according to Good Shepherd Food Bank’s statistics from Feeding America.

Thankfully, we have heroes among us. The Maine Community Foundation’s 230 COVID grantees in 2020 have helped keep Mainers fed, housed, safe, educated and even entertained during these past, seemingly endless months.

And the foundation’s donors, through their donor-advised funds, have made more than $3.6 million in direct pandemic relief grants to a wide range of organizations. The foundation also awarded another $3 million from its COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, thanks to the generosity of people with concern for others.

A stable quality of life that all Maine residents deserve is still within reach during this crisis. But nonprofit organizations face daunting work as they assist our most vulnerable populations: isolated older people in rural areas, immigrant and refugee communities, Indigenous populations, workers who have lost wages and families who persevere after months of stress.

We hope, in this season of giving, that you will consider what matters most and support – in any way you can – Maine’s nonprofit organizations that help your neighbors.

It’s our duty.

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