KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just over one year ago, Kansas Citians shifted into shutdown mode to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The collateral damage came quickly — residents lost jobs, families lost child care, children were forced into virtual classrooms, and countless people navigated food insecurity, mental health issues and even lost loved ones.
Last April, Kansas City-area broadcasters came together for OneKC, an regional effort to raise money for the Kansas City COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund. The fund provides housing assistance, food, medical assistance and other critical services to help offset the societal costs of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first day of the OneKC initiative raised more than $2.6 million, growing to $17.5 million within the first three months.
The money was then distributed in the form of grants to more than 300 agencies in the Kansas City area, helping meet a variety of needs.
Two local foundations, the Sunderland Family Foundation and the Hall Family Foundation, kick-started the fund. Each put up matching donations to grow the fund, which was distributed to as many social service agencies in the area as possible.
Special consideration was given to the racial and socioeconomic disparities revealed or worsened in parts of the Kansas City community.
A 10-page report documents how the Kansas City COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund was dispersed.
The 20-member advisory board said “these disruptions were devastating for many people and families across the region — even more so in Black and brown communities. Unstable housing, food insecurity, domestic violence, mental and behavioral health challenges, lack of access to appropriate medical services and social isolation became real consequences essentially overnight.”
Seven domestic violence organizations received a total of $750,000 to address the "significant increase in the level of violence perpetrated during the pandemic, the reduction in available beds and the innovative use of hotels and rental space to meet the increase in safety needs."
Nearly $800,000 was distributed to 33 organizations that focus food insecurity in predominantly in Black and Brown communities.
Twenty-eight organizations, primarily mental health centers, were granted a total of $855,000, while $1 million went to fund a regional eviction and foreclosure strategy.
The regional eviction and foreclosure strategy coordinated legal, social service and community agencies to prevent evictions and foreclosures — including financial assistance, legal representation, case management, landlord and lender negotiations, housing location services, and other essential support systems.
“Those dollars went to provide attorneys for families that were facing eviction," Denise St. Omer, vice president of grant making and inclusion initiatives at the Greater KC Community Foundation, said. "It helped those attorneys to be able to negotiate with landlords and pay those landlords the back rent on the spot, so that family could stay in their home."
"I think the most amazing aspect, and the times that brought me to tears, are the phone calls I would get from agencies, particularly these smaller agencies that oftentimes don't receive funding from foundations," St. Omer said.
One of those agencies was Gateway of Hope, which received $25,000 from the fund, enabling the agency to provide free counseling to women and still be able to pay their clinicians. like Megan Ross.
"If we didn't have it, we might've felt really helpless or hopeless," Ross, the lead licensed clinical professional counselor at Gateway of Hope, said. "But fortunately for this grant, because of it, we were able to be helpful in helping women."
Community LINC is another small but mighty community agency that received money from the OneKC initiative. It used part of its $25,000 to cover two months of rent and utilities for Janelle McClenton, a single mom in need of a little help.
"I broke down I said, 'Two months,'" McClenton said. "It was like I won the lottery. I was trying to make ends meet and I'm praying like, 'God, I need a little help.' I needed a little bit more help than I was expecting one month, but when she gave two I cried in tears. When she called me, you (could) hear the joy in the other side of the phone."
St. Omer also credited local broadcast stations, including 41 Action News, for coming together to help spread the word early about the OneKC initiative.
"Organizations, media outlets that, in the before times as I like to call it, really saw each other as competitors, in this moment of immense need in our community just said, 'Let's do this,'" she said.
McClenton is tremendously grateful.
"It brings me to tears like, 'Wow, they went through all that just for little old me, to help me with my rent and my utilities on my situation?'" she said.
A full list of grant recipients from the Kansas City Regional COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund is available online.
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