WORCESTER – The Worcester Together Fund, a unified COVID-19 relief effort run by the Greater Worcester Community Foundation and United Way of Central Massachusetts in collaboration with the City of Worcester, has raised over $8 million to support nonprofit organizations in Worcester during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tim Garvin, president and CEO of United Way Central Massachusetts, began work on what was then called the We Care Fund around 6 AM on Friday, March 13.
That weekend, Garvin and other United Way employees spoke on the phone with representatives of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, who had also started a COVID-19 relief fund.
By the next weekend, the two organizations had agreed to merge their respective fundraising efforts to create a single fund: the Worcester Together Fund.
“[We thought] it would be confusing to the community to have two funds,” Garvin said. “It would be a duplication of requests, and a duplication of effort in making grants.”
The fund’s organizers have declared three distinct phases of grant distribution.
The first was “response”: this phase, said Greater Worcester Community Foundation CEO Barbara Fields, offered financial support for “emergency needs.”
“It focused on food, healthcare, childcare, and reaching those communities more impacted [by the virus] – low-wage workers, immigrant communities who might have language challenges – just really trying to help the most vulnerable,” said Fields.
The second and most recent phase, “recovery”, offered grants of around $25,000 to $100,000 nonprofits “actively delivering support and/or programming to our community in a high quality, responsive manner”, according to the phase’s online description. The grants are intended to give three to six months of “unrestricted operating support” to nonprofits selected for funding.
The third phase is the “reimagining” phase, with, according to Garvin, guiding questions like, “‘How can we not go back to normal – how can we create a better future?’, ‘What would a reimagined society and community look like, and how do we use the funds that we’ve raised?,’” said Garvin.
Grantees for the “recovery” and “reimagining” phases will be selected by a governance committee made up of board members from United Way and the Greater Worcester Community foundation as well as a “broad range” of community members, said Fields. During the “response” phase, grants were determined by Fields, Garvin, and Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus.
As of now, the fund’s organizers have distributed over $3.7 million in grants to over 70 nonprofits – and they’re being creative with the ways they use the money. For example, at one point, some organizers realized that some women seeking shelter weren’t comfortable staying at a coed facility. Within 72 hours, multiple local organizations had come together to create a women-specific facility, funded by the Worcester Together Fund. Currently, fund leaders are collaborating with the Worcester Boys and Girls Club to ensure that local teenagers have a safe, comfortable place to hang out during the summer.
The fund has received both small and large donations, with widespread support from the public as well as the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund and local trusts and businesses. The fund’s organizers have used a variety of tactics to raise awareness and ask for donations, including a social media “challenge” where supporters posted photos of themselves wearing a face mask on Facebook with an encouragement for others to do the same and make a donation to the fund.
On contributions from individuals in the general public, Fields said, “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat. And because we’re all in the same storm, I think that everybody is feeling the impact, but for those who are fortunate to be OK feel … that this is the time to help our community, to help those most vulnerable, to help those who have become unemployed, to help those who need access to food, to help those who may be struggling to pay the mortgage or the rent, to help those who need healthcare – to help those in the greatest need.”
The collaboration between the city, the two major organizing foundations, and all of the other donors has provided the opportunity for many critical community organizations in Worcester to receive vital aid during the pandemic. “This is definitely an issue of ‘One plus one plus one equals 19’”, Garvin said.
“We are stronger because we are together,” said Fields.
To contribute to the Worcester Together Fund, click here.
Lead image courtesy: United Way of Central Massachusetts