CNY Nonprofits Struggle Amid Pandemic, Optimistic About Future – Oswego County Business Magazine


By Ken Sturtz

The main dining room of the Clarence L. Jordan Food Service and Culinary Education Center in Syracuse seen during a holiday celebration for clients last year. In 2019, the Rescue Mission completed a $5.8 million expansion of the facility, which serves meals year round to anyone in need. During the pandemic, the Mission has had to adjust how it serves up to 700 meals a day to clients to ensure everyone’s health and safety.
The primary eating room of the Clarence L. Jordan Meals Service and Culinary Training Middle in Syracuse seen throughout a vacation celebration for purchasers final yr. In 2019, the Rescue Mission accomplished a $5.8 million enlargement of the power, which serves meals yr spherical to anybody in want. In the course of the pandemic, the Mission has needed to regulate the way it serves as much as 700 meals a day to purchasers to make sure everybody’s well being and security.

Because the COVID-19 virus upended day-to-day life and plunged People into monetary calamity, nonprofits sprang to motion: emergency meals, psychological well being care, medical remedy, social companies, training, even safeguarding cultural and historic treasures.

Whereas the pandemic has affected everybody, the plight of nonprofit organizations has been considerably much less noticeable.

Almost each Central New York nonprofit — from main hospitals and universities, to meals pantries and museums — has felt the stress.

“The nonprofit sector was beneath and is beneath utterly unprecedented stressors,” says Frank Ridzi, vice chairman of group funding on the Central New York Group Basis.

Many organizations have seen demand for his or her companies skyrocket. Ohers have struggled to offer companies amid the pandemic. The monetary pressure has been particularly troublesome, Ridzi says. Nonprofits haven’t been in a position to maintain their typical fundraising occasions or haven’t been reimbursed by the federal government for his or her companies.

“It’s a extremely scary storm,” he says. “It’s a a lot bigger hole in funding than we may ever fill.”

Even a number of the space’s largest nonprofits have been affected. St. Joseph’s Well being and Syracuse College introduced layoffs.

New York’s persevering with funds disaster crippled many nonprofits that obtain vital parts of their income from state contracts. The state has lengthy had a status for dragging its ft when paying nonprofits, however this yr state businesses have delayed funds because the state wrestles with a large funds shortfall and the uncertainty of federal assist.

ACR Well being supplies companies throughout Central New York, together with syringe exchanges, medical help applications, testing for sexually transmitted ailments and companies for LGBTQ youth. The group depends on authorities contracts for 90% of its funds and says the state was late paying $1.6 million for a variety of companies. In July, ACR Well being furloughed 70 workers, practically half its employees, and closed three of its eight places of work.

LiteracyCNY grew to become one other sufferer of gradual state funds. Earlier than the pandemic, the group educated volunteers, who helped tons of of grownup college students be taught to learn annually. Due to the pandemic, volunteers have been working just about with lower than 100 college students.

After six a long time LiteracyCNY introduced it could stop operations earlier than the tip of the yr. It cited $100,000 in excellent funds from the state — a couple of third of its funds — as one of many causes.

Even nonprofits with numerous income streams have struggled. The Rescue Mission operates a series of Thrifty Shopper shops that brings in additional than 60% of its income. However the shops have been compelled to shut in spring.

“From a monetary degree one of many greater issues was the closing of our shops,” says Tori Shires, chief improvement officer. “While you instantly shut down the Thrifty Shopper shops for 3 months you end up in fairly a predicament.”

In March the Rescue Mission, which runs a homeless shelter and meal program, laid off 285 workers. The layoffs included employees from its thrift shops in addition to nonprogram employees. The Rescue Mission continued operations and later put its workers again on the payroll because of a $2 million PPP mortgage. Over the summer time, it lowered its employees by 21 positions.

The Rescue Mission has since reopened its thrift shops and commenced promoting some objects on-line to complement retailer income. Although they have been compelled to cancel a number of of their bigger annual fundraisers, some have gone ahead and donations have remained regular. The PPP mortgage in addition to help from the Central New York Group Basis and different foundations has helped the Rescue Mission “recover from the monetary hump,” Shires says.

Apart from monetary challenges, Shires says the Rescue Mission, like different nonprofits, has needed to discover ways to adapt to serving purchasers.

“The primary problem is the right way to present nice service and protected service to the entire folks that we serve on this system facet of issues,” she says.

The Rescue Mission runs a 183-bed dorm-style homeless shelter, the most important within the area, and Shires says they wished to ensure they did every thing attainable to safeguard the well being of purchasers, employees and volunteers. Employees separated beds and commenced checking purchasers day by day for signs. Anybody who exhibits signs is distributed to be examined instantly. Shires says they’ve solely had minimal circumstances of COVID-19, which she says is a testomony to the diligence of the employees and the rigorous cleansing procedures which were instituted.

Serving meals to these in want additionally required adjustments. Shires says they wished to maintain group members coming in for meals from infecting shelter purchasers and vice versa. In November they expanded eating hours at their meals service constructing: group members eat the primary hour and shelter residents eat the second hour.

Adapt or Perish

A Rescue Mission chef prepares meals for delivery to clients at the Rescue Mission’s facilities in Auburn. During the pandemic, the Rescue Mission has delivered meals to many people in need to limit exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
A Rescue Mission chef prepares meals for supply to purchasers on the Rescue Mission’s services in Auburn. In the course of the pandemic, the Rescue Mission has delivered meals to many individuals in must restrict publicity to the COVID-19 virus.

“It’s the character of nonprofits to adapt,” says Betsy Copps, senior director of operations for Oswego County Alternatives (OCO). “Now we have to try this on a regular basis with altering group wants, altering financial local weather, and shifting of funding.”

Whereas nonprofits are accustomed to adapting, Copps says it was in contrast to something OCO had skilled earlier than and the group was compelled to put in writing a brand new playbook because it went.

OCO is the group motion company for Oswego County, administering greater than 50 human companies applications and using tons of of employees. In mid-March OCO started working to equip as many employees as attainable to work remotely.

“We have been lucky as a result of we by no means actually closed,” Copps says.

A couple of applications did shut and there have been a couple of layoffs, Copps says, however OCO’s variety of applications and funding sources proved to be a energy.

Some applications have been reimagined. Head Begin employees put collectively packages to drop off to households so youngsters may do actions at dwelling. In a number of services for adults with disabilities, the employees couldn’t come and go because of  issues about an infection. So OCO briefly repurposed transit drivers to deal with pickup and supply of important provides like groceries and hygiene objects.

“It was an fascinating, thrilling time for us to see how we may come collectively and work towards mitigating a disaster,” Copps says.

OCO’s operations aren’t again to regular but. Some employees nonetheless work remotely and conferences are held through video convention. And there are Plexiglas boundaries and extra space between desks in places of work now, which is very difficult. In human companies making a human connection is significant, so it’s been difficult adapting to boundaries and distance, Copps says. In-person outreach stays very restricted, although social media interplay shot up 400% earlier this yr as employees used it to attach with purchasers.

The H. Lee White Maritime Museum in Oswego equally turned to social media this spring to share related pictures and items of historical past; the museum’s Fb web page noticed a 2,000% enhance in visits, Govt Director Mercedes Niess says.

The museum was compelled to shut in mid-March, however managed to reopen at first of July, in time for the summer time season, which supplies a lot of the museum’s earned earnings. The museum needed to develop a plan outlining its well being and security procedures. Masks are required and employees and volunteers have their temperature checked each day. The constructing can also be cleaned day by day.

Most occasions — Oswego Paddlefest, historical past lectures and boat constructing seminars — have been canceled, however Niess says the museum was in a position to adapt and go ahead with its annual boat excursions to Oswego’s West Pierhead Lighthouse, which elevate cash for the museum. And the annual Christmas at Sea open home will nonetheless occur, albeit with social distancing.

The museum additionally developed a brand new pandemic pleasant program for households known as the Canal to Shore Problem. A booklet highlights 23 historic websites alongside the Oswego Canal and Lake Ontario. Contributors go to each, take a selfie with museum mascot Sailor Sam, and add the pictures. Finishers obtain a customized patch from the museum. Niess says this system is a part of an effort to permit folks to be taught concerning the space’s maritime heritage whether or not or not they bodily go to the museum.

COVID-19 Group Help Fund

Dawn Ellis, 11, of Oswego, is pictured with Flat Sailor Sam in front of the National Historic Landmark Tugboat LT-5 in Oswego’s Historic Maritime District. The Canal to Shore Challenge -- sponsored in part by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and the New York State Canal Corporation -- was developed to allow families to learn about the area’s maritime history remotely. LT-5 is one of the sites of interest.
Daybreak Ellis, 11, of Oswego, is pictured with Flat Sailor Sam in entrance of the Nationwide Historic Landmark Tugboat LT-5 in Oswego’s Historic Maritime District. The Canal to Shore Problem — sponsored partly by the Erie Canalway Nationwide Heritage Hall and the New York State Canal Company — was developed to permit households to be taught concerning the space’s maritime historical past remotely. LT-5 is without doubt one of the websites of curiosity.

When the pandemic hit earlier this yr, the Central New York Group Basis discovered itself in an uncommon state of affairs. With huge assets and attain, the inspiration sometimes invested vital effort and time figuring out giant group issues — childhood lead poisoning in Syracuse, for instance — after which spearheading options with group companions.

“As this hit, we noticed this was a a lot greater disaster than we may clear up on our personal,” Ridzi says. “We had to determine what our function can be.”

After conferring with group companions, the inspiration created the COVID-19 Group Help Fund and seeded it with $300,000. The thought was that different funders would contribute to 1 pot of cash and the inspiration and its companions would transfer shortly to make grants the place they have been wanted most. This was a major departure from the norm; historically every basis has its personal utility techniques, grant processes and timelines.

Basis employees divided funding into three classes. The primary was speedy human wants, reminiscent of ensuring meals pantries had sufficient meals and offering diapers to folks. The second included health-related objects like PPE for well being care staff and first responders. The third centered on efforts to assist nonprofits adapt to the brand new setting. This included assist shifting employees to work remotely or meet with purchasers just about. It additionally included efforts to make sure essential care staff had childcare and kids and colleges have been in a position to adapt by offering new studying supplies.

By the tip of July, the help fund had raised practically $1.8 million and distributed 97 grants totaling greater than $1.4 million to Onondaga County nonprofits. Affiliate funds in Cayuga and Oswego counties distributed 45 grants totaling greater than $360,000.

“We take a look at developments over time and that’s how we resolve what to answer,” Ridzi says. “However this was lightning pace. We have been responding to speedy want.”

The muse stays in strong monetary form, Ridzi says, as a result of its emphasis on long-term planning permits it to extend funding in instances of disaster, reminiscent of in the course of the 2008 recession. He says this yr the board accepted extra funding and delayed as many initiatives as attainable to divert cash to emergency wants.

Because the pandemic has continued, the inspiration has tried to assist nonprofits which were struggling to remain afloat. The objective is to assist them regulate in an orderly style quite than instantly collapse, Ridzi says.

Regardless of the pressures, many nonprofits expressed confidence that they might in the end climate the pandemic. Copps says the sacrifices employees have made has been heartening and that the entire expertise will make OCO a stronger group sooner or later.

Shires famous that the Rescue Mission had survived laborious instances earlier than, together with recessions, depressions, wars and the 1918 pandemic.

“We’re going to outlive by way of this one too,” she says. “We’re very assured we might be right here going ahead.”


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