Over the last year, Coloradans have been challenged like never before. This global pandemic turned our world upside down, creating economic distress and a public health crisis that forced us all to recalibrate our daily lives. Coloradans who live without access to critical services due to race and socioeconomic status have been especially hard hit.
In the early days of the pandemic, businesses were temporarily shuttered and some closed permanently. Many people found themselves out of work, unable to pay rent and mortgages, or feed their families. Calls tripled to 211, Colorado’s help line — illustrating the immense need of so many Coloradans. In the face of these unprecedented challenges, we knew immediately that we had to come together to help support our communities.
On March 18, just two weeks after Colorado announced its first case of COVID-19, Gov. Jared Polis called us to action to launch the Colorado COVID Relief Fund to raise funds to address the public health crisis our state was facing. The fund’s grants aimed to support organizations providing critical services to Coloradans most disproportionately impacted by the crisis.
As the days and months grew long — one thing remained a bright light in the midst of this darkness — the outstanding generosity of our fellow Coloradans. With contributions from individuals, companies, and foundations ranging from one dollar to $1 million, each gift represented the same urgent intent — to provide help and hope to those Coloradans most in need. With the governor’s leadership, this fund became a mechanism by which Coloradans stepped up to support one another and show the true spirit of our state. The Fund received equal contributions from Colorado businesses, foundations and individuals — including more than 11,000 small donors through the helpcoloradonow.org website.
Through seven total rounds of rapid response funding, the fund has awarded more than $23 million to nearly 1,000 organizations serving all 64 Colorado counties. These dollars have gone to community-based organizations supporting children and families impacted by school closures, Coloradans without health insurance, folks who lost their jobs, victims of domestic abuse, people experiencing homelessness, and so many more.
Mile High United Way stepped up to provide fiscal management at no cost, and The Colorado Health Foundation lent experts to create an application experience that ensured every dollar donated reached those most in need. Volunteers from throughout the state then reviewed and ranked thousands of requests and made the very difficult decisions regarding funding, including Linde Marshall and Jay Seaton, two amazing Mesa County community members.
Nearly 40 community based organizations in Mesa County received funding, totaling just over $928,000 serving a wide range of community needs, including food insecurity, direct rent and utility assistance, those with developmental disabilities and many more.
Grant funding was used to support critical needs across Colorado. In Mesa, Child Care 8000 worked to provide grants to early childhood education centers serving low-income children, while the District 51 Foundation stood up an emergency meal program, serving 20,000 meals a week. The Colorado Mesa University Program set up a hardship fund to provide microgrants to those students most in need. There are hundreds of stories like these across our state, true representations of what it means to be Coloradan.
The Colorado COVID Relief Fund remains open and Coloradans can continue to make donations by check or wire. After a rigorous seven round process that was completely volunteer driven, we will utilize the 11 regional United Ways across Colorado to continue granting relief dollars and supporting Coloradans on a statewide scale. We’re thrilled the governor will continue donating his monthly salary to the fund.
Looking back on 2020, we can see how far we’ve come and we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. As we move forward, there is plenty that we’d all like to leave behind, but let us bring that spirit of generosity and kindness toward each other and our community with us into this new year.
Roxane White and Rick Sapkin are co-chairs of the Colorado COVID Relief Fund.