Sensing growing needs in the community as people were getting laid off and businesses were closing in April, Benson Area Community Foundation (BACF) worked quickly to distribute $51,400 of grants for COVID-19 relief this spring. About 6,000 people live in the area it serves, which includes Benson and the surrounding small towns Clontarf, Danvers, DeGraff and Swift Falls in Swift County.
“The primary purpose for our quarterly meeting in April was how much money do we want to give away and when do we want to give it away. We normally decide in June. We said we have to make that decision sooner. Some of these grant applicants are struggling,” said Chuck Koenigs, BACF secretary-treasurer and a founding board member.
Founded in 2005, the BACF’s mission is to enrich the area’s quality of life and provide a legacy by connecting charitable donors to community visions. It’s one of our 30 affiliate partners in southwest Minnesota that retain charitable dollars to benefit communities in our rural region. BACF has its own endowment fund as well as coordinating the Galen Hanson Memorial Education Endowment and Robert Sonsteng Memorial Advised Endowment funds. Earnings from each of those funds were available for grants.
“We said this is unprecedented times, so the collective (board) discussion came to the point that we’re going to spend every dollar of spendable we have,” Chuck said.
When Minnesota’s stay-at-home executive order was put in place this spring, volunteers couldn’t meet in person for months. Southwest Initiative Foundation invested in weekly training and software to ensure our 30 local affiliate boards could continue their work during the pandemic The BACF board used video conferencing to meet and get the grant application open. Once the grant round was advertised, applications totaling $99,253 came streaming in.
“Normally, grant applications come in the day before the deadline, and people sort of wait for the last minute. That was very different,” Chuck said. “I’d attribute that to some of the earnestness of the organizations realizing, ‘We’re going to need this money, and we’re going to need it soon.’”
Since its first grants went out in 2007, BACF has awarded $331,711 in education, recreation, arts and humanities and parks and the environment in its communities. Narrowing its focus to COVID-19 relief, the board was able to make awards in May.
Benson Public Schools received a grant for temporal thermometers in school. Countryside Public Health got funds for COVID-19 kits to pass out to kids and families (pictured, right). Swift County Benson Health Services received money for personal protective equipment. Prairie Five Senior Nutrition got funding for the Prairie Five Meals senior nutrition program (pictured, top). And Swift County Food Shelf received a grant to help stock its shelves. The largest award went to support local child care providers, with $20,000 to the Discovery Kids child care center and an additional $8,000 to support Southwest Initiative Foundation’s Emergency Child Care Grant Program.
“The Benson Area Community Foundation really stepped up for their community,” said Jeff Vetsch, SWIF’s Community Philanthropy Officer. “They didn’t waste any time in making sure they could put their resources to use to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19. They are a great example of what SWIF is trying to do with our community foundation program. Our affiliates have become catalysts for community-driven philanthropy that retains wealth and responds to needs and opportunities on a local level.”
As the pandemic upended daily life in the region, SWIF staff and other guests hosted “virtual office hours” for our affiliates to share their expertise and answer questions. We had recently moved the process for local grants online, making the grant process faster and more accessible. And, we adjusted our investment policy and continue advocating to get the best investment scenario for our affiliates’ endowment funds to help ensure a maximum amount continues to be available to grant out into communities.
After the BACF awarded its COVID-19 response grants this spring, the local board learned it will have $65,000 available for grants in the coming fiscal year, and plans are to open another grant round this fall. Find the grant application on the Benson Area Community Foundation website.
This story appears in our 2020 Annual Impact Report. Read more from the report.