03 Aug 2020 Listening, Learning and Evolving
When COVID-19 closed schools in the spring, it also shut down a primary food distribution channel for Brighter Bites, a nonprofit organization that stocks elementary school pantries with nutritious food for low-income children fighting food insecurity, cutting these kids’ key access point to a healthy diet. Undaunted, Brighter Bites rallied with local partners to organize food bank volunteers and worked tirelessly to help package, deliver and distribute the food to the children and their families at drive-through sites.
When the virus forced Family Initiative to close down its facility, the nonprofit that serves the needs of autistic children and their families creatively pivoted to continue offering services virtually with Zoom video sessions, staying connected to the lives they care so deeply about, as well as keeping routine-reliant children connected to their friends.
Adjusting to the realities of COVID-19 compelled the nonprofit Healthy Start Coalition to modify its immediate priorities by focusing on delivering basic supplies to the homes of the disadvantaged mothers of infants and toddlers, including such must-have necessities as baby formula, wipes, diapers and portable Pack’n’Plays to ensure a safe place for their children to sleep.
These are just a few of the countless examples of life on the frontlines for Southwest Florida’s nonprofit organizations during these unprecedented times of anxiety, unpredictability and isolation. Thanks to their collective work providing a network of care and compassion for the most vulnerable among us, those in need are not alone during these daunting days.
Such community strength is always crucial to resilience. But in times of crisis, it seems more important than ever. Together, we’ve faced our share of emergencies that have challenged us to rally in support of each other. Red tides may have fouled our beaches and waterways, but we wouldn’t allow them to foul our resolve. Hurricanes may have rocked us with powerful punches, but our determination to come back even stronger is what has sustained our community during the most trying times.
Since the Spring, we’ve been coping with an historic storm of a different kind, only COVID-19 hasn’t blown through and left us to begin rebuilding; it continues to impact all of us.
However, witnessing the inspired, find-a-way response of Southwest Florida’s nonprofit organizations in reimagining the ways they serve the community has prompted me to reflect on an opportunity for all of us to rethink how we can best collaboratively create a thriving, equitable, sustainable community.
This is an inflection point energized by impassioned nonprofits that continue to work with unrelenting determination and grace under pressure to innovate new ways to meet the crucial needs of our neighbors, needs that have increased dramatically as a result of the pandemic.
In March, when COVID-19 turned our lives upside-down, we at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation recognized that our job was to listen intentionally, learn adaptively and evolve accordingly to support nonprofits whose missions span the challenging issues impacting Southwest Florida. We’ve been listening and learning through polls and small group and one-on-one conversations to more deeply understand a comprehensive range of service organizations’ needs and concerns. And the more we learn, the more we continue to design programs tailored to meet their evolving circumstances as part of reassessing our own potential to evolve in our role.
For example, we’ve worked collaboratively with nonprofits navigating a new digital landscape reliant on technology-based virtual connections. Along with community partners, we’ve helped provide online programs designed to assist nonprofit organizations in that technology transition and integration into their ongoing operations moving forward. This allows them to stay connected with stakeholders during these times of social distancing, greatly expand their potential reach, and it fosters a more robust, integrated nonprofit ecosystem by providing an “instant-on” platform for sharing information and ideas that can most effectively and efficiently meet the collective needs of the community. Many of the programs and other resources are available on the Foundation’s COVID-19 resources page at: www.floridacommunity.com/covid-19.
The pandemic’s immense impact on the way we go about everyday life with our families, friends and colleagues has imposed an unprecedented disruption to business as usual and opened a window on what is possible through social entrepreneurship.
The inventive pivots of the region’s nonprofit organizations have galvanized my belief that with collaboration and a collective reimagination of what is possible, our community will overcome the pandemic’s still-unfolding challenges. Because, as we face this different kind of storm, if our past has taught us anything, it’s that when we stand together as the storm winds are at their strongest, we have always stood stronger.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $7.7 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $134.9 million, it has provided $85 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com