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After closing to the public March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Discovery Center of Springfield Inc. underwent a rapid transformation in less than a week to continue helping the community in an unprecedented way.
The educational science center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, reopened March 23 and is currently operating as a licensed child care facility. Child care and educational programming is being offered at least through April at the nonprofit’s 60,000-square-foot building at 438 St. Louis St., said Discovery Center Executive Director Rob Blevins. The service is specifically for children of health care workers and first responders, he said, adding the center is open 6 a.m-8 p.m. daily.
“We can be a backup in case of an emergency and serve our community and do our mission, just in a different way than we’re used to,” Blevins said.
Staff worked quickly with the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services to receive the state license and prepare the building for dozens of children, ages 5-14. A daily average of around 100 children were on-site for the first week, Blevins said. Operational costs are running between $5,000 and $6,000 per day, currently covered by donations.
“Our No. 1 priority through this is keeping the kids safe,” he said, noting all class sizes are 10 or less.
The Discovery Center’s quick pivot is part of the ever-changing landscape caused by COVID-19, as nonprofits struggle to find stable footing. Fundraising is challenged by canceled or postponed events, while demand for services, particularly for food, is expected to increase.
However, Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, Missouri Inc. didn’t let a postponed event deter its fundraising efforts. Its 15th annual Tool Belts and Bow Ties gala, originally set for March 27, still raised over $130,000 through committed sponsorship and ticket presales, said Development Director Abby Glenn. Nearly $30,000 of that total is connected to ticket sales for its annual Backyard Bundle raffle, which was moved online. Last year’s event grossed $134,000, roughly 5% of the nonprofit’s annual budget.
An additional $40,000 in night-of donations was anticipated this year, she said, adding a new date is yet to be secured.
“We were walking in with the most money we had ever raised before,” Glenn said of donations to this year’s event. “That was the biggest gut punch.”
While the coronavirus pandemic impacted Habitat for Humanity’s event, Ozarks Food Harvest took preemptive action in providing extra services.
“We tried to get a little bit out ahead of this about three weeks ago,” President and CEO Bart Brown said March 30. “We had our member pantries start doing drive-by distributions. We asked them to really double up on the amount of food they were giving people so folks wouldn’t have to come back as soon.”
The organization serves 270 hunger-relief organizations in its 28-county coverage area and annually provides more than 18 million meals.
Brown said he expects that meal number will increase this year by roughly 1 million, mostly in the next two to three months. That means the agency will need to provide around 2.5 million meals over that period, he added.
“The good news is there’s a lot of food right now in the system and there’s a lot of food in the pipeline because of the federal legislation that was passed (March 27),” he said, in reference to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
The $2 trillion act signed into law by President Donald Trump provides $24.6 billion for domestic food programs, with nearly $16 billion to improve access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Anyone not working or generating income right now qualifies for SNAP benefits and emergency food, Brown said, adding that could include a lot of newly laid-off residents who have never used the services before.
Aside from donations, nonprofits are seeking financial help through the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. The agency in mid-March created the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund Grant Program, which received $1 million by the CFO, Missouri Foundation of Health and the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation managed by Commerce Trust Co.
CFO President Brian Fogle said $140,000 has been added to the fund through donations or commitments, with more expected soon.
Roughly 120 grant requests totaling $2.55 million have been made as of March 31, he said, noting grants will start being awarded this month. Agencies can apply for up to $25,000 in funding, or $40,000, if partnering with at least two other nonprofits. The grants target vulnerable populations, including senior citizens, the homeless and food insecure individuals.
“We will literally be sending out checks every week for the coming months,” Fogle said. “Folks need that help now.”
The Discovery Center’s Blevins said his organization is also seeking help, as he expects child care services will be needed into May. The center has about $35,000 in hand right now through community donations to offset expenses, with another $20,000 committed and asks out for an additional $40,000. Still, costs are multiplying the longer services are required, which is complicated by the uncertainty of when the virus crisis will subside.
“I expected pretty much what we’ve been able to get,” he said. “There’s a lot of businesses that would typically be supporting us that are struggling financially. There’s not a whole lot of industries that haven’t been majorly affected by this.”
A similar situation faces OFH, as Brown said its operational costs to meet the increased food demand are “through the roof.” He identified $250,000 needed to generate the 1 million meals over the next 90 days and essentially cover its costs.
Fundraising efforts are ongoing to meet that lofty goal, he said, noting OFH received $2.75 million in donations in 2019.
“One thing that is different about this is that so many of our very generous donors are being affected by COVID-19,” Brown said.
“Not everyone is in a position to help like they have in the past. That’s a pretty sobering realization.”
Features Editor Christine Temple contributed.
The first downtown Springfield branch for Arvest Bank opened; a longtime licensed massage therapist became a first-time business owner; and 7 Brew Coffee opened its fourth shop in Springfield.