Car accident. House fire. Health crisis. Job loss. Sudden death in the family. Burst pipes. Domestic violence.
Many of these unfortunate and often unexpected occurrences aren’t directly related to the coronavirus pandemic, but have continued to rise in prevalence since its onset last March.
Fortunately for many, the Northshore Schools Foundation has a Basic Needs Aid Fund for families who find themselves in sudden financial hardship. A fundraiser to benefit this fund and other vital resources provided by the foundation will be held virtually on April 8.
Through the Basic Needs Funds, $200 grants are given to qualifying families to provide short-term help. In 2019, only eight families requested support. During the 2020 school year, volunteers identified 47 families that experienced a crisis and qualified for funding. Now, the foundation is hearing from eight or nine families each month.
“Hundreds of hundreds of donors have stepped up to make sure that they can help be part of the solution,” said Heather Erickson, removing barriers coordinator for the foundation.
Erickson said about 500 donors have contributed to keeping the Basic Needs Aid Fund going. Much of the money is coming from individuals, she noted, although the foundation has received several one-time grants as a result of COVID-19.
“We really couldn't do it without the help and support and the generosity of the community and the donors who recognize that we do want to be able to give back to the students in our community,” she said. “And it's just mind boggling to see the distress of these families. To know that we can help them is very joyful for us.”
Erickson said $200 may not seem like a lot of money, but it helps families put a couple lunches together or dinner on the table. The funding might allow people to leave the lights and heat on a little longer or fill the car with a tank of gas, she noted.
Youth homelessness was a problem long before the pandemic, she noted. However, there has been an uptick in families living together in small quarters because of lost income or other financial burdens.
The foundation also operates an Opportunity Fund to help all students from grades K-12 achieve academic success. She said funds can range from food support in the house to utility bills that need to be paid. Especially in the remote environment, young children may need sensory items like bouncy balls or small trampolines.
“The pandemic has allowed us to pivot how we are in the community and how we support families,” Erickson said. “The impact for us has been that we've been able, on a grander scale, to support the students.”
She said the foundation gave out $137,000 in basic needs aid last year alone. This school year, over $50,000 in Opportunity Funds has already been dispersed and 261 families have received aid since October.
Traditionally, the foundation would hand out backpacks with essential school supplies for students at the beginning of the year. With pressures from the pandemic, the organization transitioned to in-home supply kits last fall. Since then, close to 1,800 kits have been handed out to students in need.
Another essential program established to remove barriers in the Northshore School District is the Book Mobile Program. The program was created to ensure all students had access to books when schools and libraries closed.
According to Carmin Dalziel, executive director of the foundation, the number of books a child has at home is connected with their academic success and ability to be successful. She said the program was launched in April 2020 and over 15,000 books have been delivered to Northshore students since then.
Erickson said more and more families are recognizing that the foundation can provide them support in times of crisis. After a tough year for many, the community foundation is excited to continue efforts to raise critical funds at the annual All In For Kids fundraiser on April 8 from 4-5:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 with a suggested $150 donation at the event.
“We’re working to create the experience that the community has come to expect from the Northshore Schools Foundation, now in virtual platform,” said Dyana Berger, chair of the event committee. “Our students need our foundation and community support now more than ever.”