(Editor's Note: This column originally appeared on LNP | LancasterOnline.com.)
By Sam Bressi, President & CEO, Lancaster County Community Foundation; and Kevin Ressler, President & CEO, United Way of Lancaster County:
We have just turned the page on an unexpectedly long year. As we try to take a breath and reflect on the positives in the past 12 months, we come to one word. Gratitude.
And the truth is, that’s a hard word to say right now, because many in our local, national and global world are hurting. Our gratitude rests in the generosity of Lancaster residents and businesses that have seen that they are doing better than their neighbors and asked, “How can I help?”
We live in times of uncertainty as the world continues to shift below our feet. One thing of which we are certain, though, is the generosity of Lancaster. You may remember back in March when our organizations, the Community Foundation and United Way, asked Lancastrians to pull together resources to support our neighbors in uncertain times through a responsive program.
By March 30, the Lancaster Cares COVID-19 Response Fund was launched to provide essential support for people experiencing hardship during the crisis. Seeded with a $250,000 investment from Lancaster County Community Foundation and designed in partnership with United Way of Lancaster County, the joint COVID-19 relief effort was designed to leverage the expertise of front-line service organizations and assess multiple streams of funding to ensure maximum support for Lancaster residents.
Nine months later, 750 community members, organizations and companies had raised more than $1 million. The Lancaster Cares COVID-19 Response Fund has supported more than 100 organizations responding to the pandemic with new initiatives; support for food security; housing support; and support for other needs that emerged across Lancaster County.
By Dec. 31, Lancaster Cares had distributed every last penny. That was our mandate: raise, distribute, help. We are humbled and honored by the community’s trust.
We proudly invite you to watch the videos and read the impact stories on our websites, which we add to continuously:
Lancaster Cares was guided by the expertise of a steering group of community leaders from city and county government, from Tabor Community Services and LancoMyHome, from Central Penn Food Bank and Community Action Partnership, as well as United Way and the Community Foundation.
Regular meetings clarified our focus on three key areas: food security, housing support and emerging needs. Our group of front-line experts helped to unearth answers to the questions “What don’t we know?” and “What are we learning?”
More issues emerged than we have space here to mention. But the team was invaluable to identify and support a range of issues, large and targeted. Lancaster Cares helped stand up the Eviction Prevention Network, helping with rent and mortgage assistance to keep people from falling impossibly behind. And funds supported infrastructure and organizations hosting “Community Classrooms,” where families could access a safe environment for their children to learn in the remote world, so parents could go to work.
A Mobile Hospitality Unit was launched to offer laundry and hygiene to individuals without a permanent residence. Dollars were directed to bolster mental health care accessibility and support.
And as the world revealed itself, we began to add a lens of equity, minding disparate realities for communities of color in medical treatment and care.
Literally, dozens upon dozens more otherwise-unfunded community concerns were supported. So, as our community looks to 2021, Lancaster Cares expects that people across Lancaster County will continue to need support.
COVID-19 has caused many problems, but it also revealed pre-existing ones in our society. Far too many people were already on the precipice of disaster before the pandemic, and we stand ready to support in ways that we can. The teams at the Community Foundation and the United Way continue to work with our steering committee partners.
Having witnessed the generosity of our community in 2020, we know Lancaster residents stand with us, ready to lend a hand or a dollar to support those who continue to be adversely impacted by the ravages of this COVID-19 pandemic.
Knowing this — that Lancaster County residents will turn out to support each other — makes it easy to focus on gratitude.
Our promise to you is simple. When we are needed, we will be there. Just like last time. Just like this time. And while we hope never again, we know that there will be a next time. We will be ready, because we know you will be there for each other as always.
With gratitude and thanks,