Never has it been more clear that Montana’s well-being rests on a dynamic mosaic comprised of businesses large and small, nonprofits of all varieties and sizes, local, state and federal government, and private philanthropy. More than ever before we realize how much we rely on all aspects of the mosaic working together to meet the needs and aspirations of Montana’s people and to ensure our quality of life.
The economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are hitting hard on all fronts, undermining the safety net we rely on in Montana. As businesses, schools and childcare centers close the doors, nonprofits that offer essential services are stepping forward to meet pressing community needs at a time when social distancing is a safety mandate.
Food banks across Montana are seeing a skyrocketed demand while being inventive about food drop-off and pick-up. Mental health service providers are trying to keep at least a minimum of service in place at a time when anxiety and trauma-related symptoms are climbing. Residential facilities struggle to find the cleaning supplies they need to keep their facilities safe. And health care workers are on the frontline even as they work out their own family care issues with the closures of schools and childcare centers.
And then there are the hundreds of nonprofits who are either operating remotely or have temporarily closed shop. Some will be able to survive a temporary closure; others will not. For those that do not re-open, the loss will be felt most acutely in the most rural parts of the state where the closure of any business or resource ripples through the entire community. We know we will make it through to the other side of COVID-19. In the meantime, there are tangible things any one of us can do to help position our communities to bounce back as soon as possible.
Each of us can support Montana’s future by creatively supporting local businesses and nonprofits now. As possible, purchase local – not just from grocery stores or bookstores, but also from local artists. Purchase gift certificates from hair salons, nail techs, coffee shops, and restaurants as well as the local theater, symphony, or museum. Put money in the jar at the gas station to support employee needs. If you don’t need cleaning supplies when you go to the store, buy a “single family serving” anyway and donate to your emergency shelter, YWCA or group home. Over-tip. Contribute to a local conservation or watershed protection group. Do something unexpectedly kind for a childcare provider who has shut down for the duration. Set up a short-term recurring donation to nonprofits serving your most at-risk neighbors: domestic violence services, food banks, shelters, and houses of faith. You know best who these organizations are in your community and it will help them to know they can count on your donation for a few months.
There are other options as well. Communities across Montana have established relief funds through which dollars donated are deployed to meet immediate needs. For communities without an existing relief fund, Montana Nonprofit Association and Montana Community Foundation are collaborating on a COVID-19 Fund for rural recovery and resilience. This fund will help support Montana’s more rural and tribal communities. You can find information about all these funds at the COVID-19 site on Montana Community Foundation’s website (mtcf.org) and at Montana Nonprofit Association’s COVID-19 page at mtnonprofit.org.
The decisions we make now will help us reduce the harm of the pandemic and position us to recover as wholly as possible when the time comes. Montana, let’s leave nothing on the table. If ever there was a time to pull every lever we have for the good of the whole, now is it. We are in this together, and to a large degree our communities will rise and fall together. Now is the time to both take care of our own and look out for our brothers and sisters. Spend local and give bravely, knowing we can navigate this crisis with those things no pandemic can touch: our shared sense of humanity, generosity of spirit, and the certainty that caring for one another and our neighbors in the toughest of times will always be the right choice.
Liz Moore is executive director of the Montana Nonprofit Association. Mary Rutherford is president and CEO of the Montana Community Foundation.
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