May 14, 2020

Oregon’s COVID-19 Community Response: What We’ve Learned and Where We’re Headed

By: Max Williams
Past President and Senior Advisor

Two Months In, the Need is Still Great  

As we enter the third month of COVID-19 response, we remain diligent and cautiously optimistic that infection and mortality rates will continue trending downward.

And we recognize the severe and lasting economic and social strain on communities in every corner of the state.

COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work and gather. It has brought stalwart institutions and entire sectors to their knees and slammed the brakes on more than a decade of unparalleled growth and the lowest unemployment that many of us had seen in our lifetimes. It is clear by all measurable signals that nobody was prepared for this—or any—pandemic.

During any moment of significant change, it’s important to reflect on what we’ve learned and simultaneously assess and prepare for the long-term. This pandemic has clarified our most vital role as a statewide community foundation: mobilizing and deploying resources where they’re needed most. OCF is in a unique position to actively engage with state legislators and the Governor’s office, with community organizations and nonprofits, with a network of volunteers, donors, professional and financial advisors. This multifaceted view offers some dimensional perspective to Oregon’s recovery response. 

As OCF has shifted from our physical to virtual spaces over the past eight weeks, we have maintained our convening role, gathering key learnings and insights from across the state. Five key focus areas will anchor our response in the coming weeks to ensure our efforts deliver the strongest impact to those in the greatest need.

1. The pandemic is deepening existing disparities

COVID-19 is only widening the deep disparities that cause suffering for the most vulnerable in our state: communities of color, individuals who experience poverty, individuals who experience disabilities, individuals who experience homelessness, children and other vulnerable populations.

2. Recovery will require a collective effort from public, private and nonprofit sectors

With our government’s resources stretched thin to address all aspects of the pandemic, they can only go so far. Recovery and rebuilding require an integrated, collaborative effort of public, private and nonprofit sectors to augment the work of local and state governments. OCF is prioritizing shoring up the stability of nonprofits across all aspects of the COVID-19 response—basic needs, childcare, jobs and economic support, educational enhancements, services for our most vulnerable and underserved neighbors, and the community infrastructure that Oregonians rely on for support. By ensuring that nonprofit organizations across the state are able to access funds they need, they will continue to be a vital resource for Oregon’s recovery efforts.

3. Listen and respond to what communities need

We have convened multiple “Virtual Town Halls” with OCF’s statewide volunteer Leadership Councils to listen and learn more about the challenges and impacts across the state. Some generally consistent themes emerged:

  • Already fragile childcare systems across the state are collapsing.
  • Rural health systems are in financially perilous situations, raising concerns about the long-term loss of community health professionals.
  • Communities of color, historically marginalized communities and poor rural families are experiencing disproportionate impacts of the crisis (both health and economic).
  • We hear deepening concerns that many small businesses (key employers in rural communities) will not reemerge from the financial challenges they are facing.
  • The learning loss for Oregon students from pre-K through college—and again the disproportional impacts on those most affected by the opportunity gap—who were already at a disadvantage.
  • High levels of concern about tourism-based economies.
  •  State budget reductions impacting all levels of service, but particularly higher education in the regional systems and community colleges.

These discussions, the questions posed to OCF and our ongoing work with partners, government and community are helping inform our next steps.

4. Oregonians are generously responding to the crisis 

Since this crisis emerged, Oregonians have responded with unparalleled generosity. As one example, pooled recovery funds deployed through OCF have so far mobilized in excess of $13 million. And we continue to work in partnership with many philanthropic partners across the state to share and align philanthropic resources to support our communities. Coupled with the countless hours of volunteer efforts, the dedication of our healthcare community, and grassroots organizations coming together to build stronger communities—Oregonians are mobilizing to meet the overwhelming needs of our friends, families, neighbors and colleagues. 

5. Persistent needs far exceed philanthropy’s resources

Our collective statewide philanthropic efforts are crucial in this critical time. But it is also important to share the reality: the needs in Oregon far exceed philanthropy’s resources. As of May 1, OCF has received more than $70 million in requests. Placed within the context of OCF’s overall grantmaking trends: in one month's time, OCF received more applications for funding than we normally receive over the course of a full year. This is a stark reminder that not only are the needs great, but that our recovery will take ongoing generosity across all areas of our society: from corporate and business partners, from government leaders and policymakers, and from Oregonians who have the ability to give—to whatever organization or cause that is most important to them. OCF is but one of many stepping up to provide community relief. 

We are continuing each day to focus on what is next and to answer the question: How do our unique assets, our relationships and our community networks help us meet our mission in this moment? OCF plays a vital role in building and sustaining long-term partnerships to take on our most pressing challenges, as exhibited in stories in our just-released 2019 Annual Report. As discussions turn toward reopening the state, the work can’t stop. The recovery needs ongoing continued dedication and effort beyond the quarantine.

To this end, and alongside many others, OCF will continue to invest time and resources in the following areas: 

  • Work with generous donors to raise and mobilize funds quickly.
  • Help organizations pool money and other resources to achieve a bigger impact.
  • Strengthen and build relationships with nonprofit organizations to collectively identify and direct resources to efficiently address the most pressing needs in communities.
  • Remain committed to addressing both short- and long-term needs—immediate relief and ongoing support to recover, rebuild, and plan for the future.

It is these moments that define us, strengthening the deep-rooted commitment we have to take care of each other, especially during tough times. If you are interested in learning more about what we’re hearing, or if you or your organization has resources that can be deployed to help communities in crisis, we remain in service to community.

Max Williams
President and CEO