PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Foundation has announced it awarded more than a dozen nonprofits another $550,000 in grants to help them stay afloat and continue to provide important services during the pandemic.
“You know, a year ago, none of us knew what we were getting into. We heard about this pandemic, we knew it was going to cause a lot of stress and strain on a lot of people, create many people in a vulnerable population category that needed help,” President and CEO Neil Steinberg said.
As the pandemic spread and the needs of that population increased, the COVID-19 Response Fund was quickly created.
“So, we raised the money, and as we’ve talked about before, gave it out as quickly as we could get it in the door, and it hasn’t stopped,” Steinberg added.
Steinberg tells 12 News the Foundation will continue to distribute grants from the response fund, even as the state of the pandemic appears to be changing amid the vaccine rollout.
“The name is it’s a COVID-19 Response Fund, and response covers a lot,” Steinberg said. “Somebody asked us if we’re going to change it to recovery. Response, recovery, it’s all for people in need.”
“We’ve always funded for these basic human needs, for these social services, for the safety net. This just put it ramped it up by multiples,” he continued. “But there’s always a need for this. So, while it might not be COVID, we’ll always be responding to people who need safety net help.”
Dorcas International is using its grant money to help at least 40 households of the Narragansett tribe with rent, utilities, transportation, PPE products and other basic needs.
The Samaritans of Rhode Island will use its grant to support ongoing staffing for its work serving people in emotional crisis through its Hotline/Listening Line at (401) 272-4044 or 1 (800) 356-4044.
Denise Panichas, executive director of The Samaritans of Rhode Island, said without the support of the Foundation’s grants, she’s not convinced the group would have been able to keep operating.
“The Rhode Island Foundation stepped up almost immediately from the time that a pandemic began and the governor closed the state down in March,” Panichas recalled.
Panichas said in addition to its latest award from the Foundation, it received other grants in 2020 that allowed the Samaritans to change its response in order to focus on helping Rhode Islanders.
Samaritans relies heavily on volunteers, including students at Brown University.
“When the state shut down, the Brown University students had to leave campus shortly thereafter and we lost all of our volunteers. They all went home,” she said. “So, we needed to undo 40 years of protocols.”
Panichas said with no one to answer phones and the office being closed, Samaritans volunteers needed to merge technologies together to make the hotline accessible for volunteers, no matter where they were in the country.
“We had core volunteers here in Rhode Island, and then with the help of our Brown University volunteers, we were able to put these technologies together relatively inexpensively,” Panichas explained.
Panichas said the calls to the hotline have involved “a myriad of issues.”
“We had everything from people calling us from hospitals to people calling us concerned about loved ones, people calling about having lost loved ones, to COVID, jobs, domestic violence. I mean, everything that you would imagine can happen happened,” Panichas said.
Panichas said the impact the pandemic has had on mental health was also apparent when looking at the Samaritans’ website data.
“In the year 2020, we had over 18,000 visitors to our website from all over the country,” she said, noting at least 3,000 site visits were from Rhode Islanders.
“What was really interesting, when we went to look at those statistics, was that from January through May, there were 10,000 visitors to our website,” Panichas said. “So, imagine for the whole year it was 18,000, but in the first five months it was 10,000.”
“It provided us with a snapshot of what the impact of COVID was doing to people emotionally,” she added. “COVID has a broader impact, and I think that the impact of COVID will be around for a long time.”
“There are people who have who are grieving the loss of loved ones. There are people who have been isolated in facilities. There are people who put off getting care because they were afraid of getting COVID. And I mean … we all know somebody,” Panichas continued.
“I am grateful to the Rhode Island Foundation that they allowed our organization to continue to operate, because it’s not going to go away in the short while,” she added.
The full list of the latest round of COVID-19 Response Fund grant recipients:
- Dorcas International Institute in Providence
- Operation Stand Down in Johnston
- Samaritans of Rhode Island in Pawtucket
- Turning Around Ministries in Newport
- WARM Shelter in Westerly
- Bradley Hospital
- Crossroads Rhode Island
- Da Vinci Center
- Housing Network
- Interfaith Counseling Center
- New Englanders Helping Our Veterans
- Project Undercover
- Project Weber/RENEW, R.I. Legal Services
- R.I. Parent Information Network
- Sacred Heart Elderly Day Care
- Women’s Refugee Care