Pictured from left to right: Amanda Hedlund (WCF’s Board Chair), Keri Cada (HCO), Katie van Eijl (Project Fine), Doug Grout (Semcac), Eric Sievers (Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center), Sandra Burke (Winona Volunteer Services) and Kathy Peterson (WCF’s Board Vice-Chair).

“I continue to be amazed by the generosity of the Winona Community Foundation and the Winona community.”
– Erik Sievers, Executive Director of Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center

When the pandemic hit the Winona area, there were many who found themselves in a financial crisis. The community quickly worked together to find ways to help.

As a response to the growing need, the Winona Community Foundation established the COVID-19 Relief Fund in April of 2020. This fund was a way for the Foundation to raise and collect charitable donations. The purpose of these dollars was to deliver direct relief to those struggling with financial hardships as a result of the pandemic. This included, but was not limited to, work shutdowns, layoffs, and childcare.

After an initial $25,000 was received in the fund, the agency partners of the fund received $5,000 to give out at their discretion to individuals in need. On May 1, 2020, the fund reached over $100,000. By 2021, the fund had reached over $200,000 thanks to generous donations both big and small.

When the Foundation took on the role of receiving contributions for this fund, we made a commitment that every penny would go back into the community for that purpose. If there were any funds remaining, these dollars would be distributed to our agency partner nonprofits for operational relief.  Despite the pandemic’s lingering effects, the Winona Community Foundation’s Board of Directors recognized we are in a more “manageable” point in time. With that, the Winona Community Foundation’s Board of Directors voted to close out the established COVID-19 Relief Fund. At the time of this decision, there was $18,416.70 remaining in the fund.

As a beacon to many through this challenging time and to honor our commitment, the Foundation granted the remaining $18,416.70 to five of our agency partner organizations as a way to thank them for their efforts and for their own operational support as they serve as critical resources to our community. Each of our agency partner organizations were an essential resource to our community throughout the on-going pandemic. The following organizations received a portion of the fund:

Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center is dedicated to delivering exceptional, responsive and consumer focused behavior health services. During the pandemic, Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center found that their clients had a variety of needs and they carefully assessed the best way to meet those needs with the help of the COVID-19 Relief Fund. They purchased phone minutes for phones so clients could continue to attend mental health therapy sessions. They purchased noise canceling headphones for a woman experiencing difficulty with background noise in her home, and provided a grocery gift card for a single parent client who lost her job.

“The Emergency Fund has been an amazing resource for the individuals and families we serve,” Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center.

Home and Community Options (HCO) provides support and residential services to people with developmental disabilities. The programs of HCO include 24-hour residential care settings, a 24-unit apartment complex, programs to support people who live semi-independently, and support services for those who live with their families. All of the organization’s services are designed to build skills, maximize growth, and allow individuals to maintain independence and self-sufficiency. During the pandemic, HCO experienced the financial impact due to the increase in safety equipment and PPE to protect its clients and staff. Despite this challenge, the organization was able to continue offering support for those in need.

Project FINE: $3,638.34 

Project FINE helps newcomers integrate into the community by providing foreign language interpreters and translators as well as opportunities for education, information, referral, and empowerment for immigrants and refugees. These services are available for both newcomers and established residents. During the pandemic, Project FINE staff prioritized the most affected refugee and immigrant families by the current economic slowdown. The majority of the support provided was in the form of gift cards for groceries for laid off workers and single parents. They were also able to provide full rent support to a family of five that was experiencing significant financial hardships and were facing potential eviction. Because of this fund, they were able to offer families a a safe place to live in this time of need.

“Thank you so much for this support, I was just about to run out of food for my family and this will help me buy groceries for my children,” Project FINE COVID-19 Relief Fund recipient.

Semcac: $3,638.34 

Semcac is dedicated to empowering and advocating for people to enhance their self-sufficiency by maximizing community resources. During this challenging time, the Semcac staff was able to continue offering a personal connection for households struggling with financial hardships. The Outreach Services staff advocates for clients, provides information and referrals, assists with completing applications for services, and administers crisis assistance. This assistance was able to help with motel vouchers, food emergencies, transportation, or other emergent needs that helped sustain or create improved self-reliance of an individual or family. As part of this support, these clients were also able to meet with staff to establish a plan for stability.

Winona Volunteers Services is committed to providing life’s necessities to others. Their programs include a food shelf, a clothing thrift store, home delivered meals, health and nutrition education, information and referrals, and coordinated assistance. After the Warming Center closed on March 26, 2020, Volunteer Services took on the responsibility to facilitate housing for the homeless during the State mandated stay-at-home order to keep these individuals safe. The temporary lodging comes at a price and so the COVID-19 Relief Fund was able to help fund the costs associated with their lodging for the first month.

And while Volunteer Services has not quite seen an uptick of financial requests caused by this pandemic, they did help one family with their internet bill so they could successfully continue online learning with their children.

“We are very grateful for the chance to help [the homeless] folks continue to stay safe,” Kay Peterson, Client Services Coordinator at Winona Volunteer Services.

“The Winona Community Foundation did so much for our community during these tough times, thank you! ”
– Fatima Said, Executive Director of Project Fine

Our donors build our community, and we’d like to extend our gratitude to our donors as you made this support possible. Thank you for being a catalyst for igniting generosity in the Winona area.

Are you interested in learning more about how you can better support your local community? Contact the Winona Community Foundation directly at (507) 454-6511 or wcf@winonacf.org for a confidential conversation.

The Winona Community Foundation is a community leader and resource for giving and granting in the Winona area. We serve non-profits and donors, big and small.