In many ways, it feels like March was more than a year ago. The pandemic and subsequent shut-down have certainly been a challenging time for us all. Many found themselves working from home and homeschooling in the same week. Others found themselves without a job, their business, or essential supplies. To say the time was tumultuous is an understatement. It felt as if the very way we live was under attack. We were confined to our homes without a lot of answers. And, when we did get answers, they were constantly and rapidly changing. In a matter of a week, our local, state, and national economies were effectively shuttered.
One good thing about the Texas Panhandle is that crisis and tough times are when we as a region shine even brighter by coming together. The Foundation immediately saw the needs of our nonprofit partners. We also knew that as people were out of work and kids were out of school, food insecurity was going to become a crisis for many around the Panhandle. Already vulnerable populations were going to need even more assistance as the virus spread. In addition, we could see that personal protective and medical equipment were going to be needed by nonprofit medical personnel. The Amarillo Area Foundation (AAF) and The Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation Board of Directors acted swiftly, opening the Panhandle Disaster Relief Fund (PDRF) and allocating $200,000
The PDRF was created in 2006 to help combat disasters that would inevitably plague our area and, while those were mostly wildfires and tornadoes in the past, our board felt like COVID-19 posed an immediate threat to our area nonprofit organizations and the people they serve. We were ready to begin making grants from the fund, but our staff was now working remotely, and this type of undertaking requires coordination and collaboration between every department to get it lifted off the ground! Fortunately, technology was quickly put into place, and we were prepared to deploy funds to the 26 counties of the Texas Panhandle within days.
Immediately, we funded food security programs and childcare for first responders and essential employees. Donors and businesses began to join the efforts and add to the funds available. Our staff were receiving the requests and sending the dollars out in the same week. People were sharing the message. All our amazing media stations ran PSAs, and Lamar gave us digital billboard space. It was an amazing example of neighbors helping neighbors!
The stories of nonprofit organizations turning their missions into battle cries and meeting the increased demands were being told all over the Panhandle. Organizations also shifted their missions to meet the needs during the crisis. As many of them serve vulnerable populations and with unemployment spiking, their client numbers were growing. Innovation and new ways of thinking took center stage. That is the thing about nonprofit organizations, they can adapt quickly and continuously as the situation evolves.
Two truly unique grants went to two of our rural hospitals. Moore County Hospital Foundation and Hemphill County Hospital District both received funding for ventilators, which was one of the primary needs to save lives of critically ill COVID patients.
Our staff wanted to get more people directly involved in PDRF, so the Neighbors Helping Neighbors 9-night virtual concert series was born. We identified nine diverse musical artists who agreed to play a one-hour concert live on their Facebook page. These 9 nights were successful not only because donors showed up and helped us raise over $8,000 but, more importantly, because they created a renewed sense of connection between artists that missed their audiences and people who were stuck at home. We heard great feedback from many who said they needed that escape. We have the best neighbors on earth!
As an organization, we have had 10 PDRF grant cycles with over $564,492 distributed to 51 organizations across the Texas Panhandle. We are so proud that 100% of the gifts go to 100% of the Texas Panhandle. 62% of the funds went to emergency food grants, totaling $324,000! Next was medical equipment/PPE at 21 % or $121,000. There are still limited funds available, so these numbers will grow.
We know that COVID will continue to affect nonprofit organizations and the clients they serve for the foreseeable future, so we are also focusing our efforts on this year’s The Panhandle Gives campaign. We have heard from many of the participating organizations that the success of the campaign will be instrumental in their ability to provide their services past 2020. We are striving to raise $500,000 for the Amplification Fund, which means the donations received during The Panhandle Gives campaign will have an even greater impact. We are also working to equip nonprofits for their campaigns and create space for sharing best practices. Additionally, the remaining 2020 Discretionary Grant Cycles for the Amarillo Area Foundation will focus on nonprofit organizations who have been adversely affected by the COVID pandemic.
Here is the complete list of grants given by the Panhandle Disaster Relief Fund: (as of July 13, 2020)
Here is the list of donors who made it possible: