BEMIDJI -- In response to the coronavirus, the United Way of Bemidji Area has established an emergency fund to help support local nonprofits with unexpected expenses.

The funds will help support access to food, emergency needs and care to the elderly and most vulnerable in the local community. Any agencies with unexpected expenses combined with fundraising shortfalls due to event cancellations will also be included in receiving funds.

Denae Alamano, executive director of the United Way of Bemidji Area, explained that they recently hosted a call with Community Resource Connections to hear about what community agencies are doing to maintain services, how they are supporting their staff and what the United Way could do to help.

On the call were around 32 different Bemidji agencies, including representatives from Beltrami County Public Health, the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, and the Headwaters Science Center, to name a few.

Based off of that call, Alamano said they identified at least two different things they could do to help. The first was to swap out older volunteers for younger ones.

“A lot of the elderly population are our volunteers in this community, so swapping them out for younger volunteers so they can stay home and be safe has been a major priority,” she said.

The other thing they prioritized was dedicating an emergency fund strictly to needs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s going to take a while for national funds to make it to Bemidji,” Alamano said. “So this is about how we can identify the needs that are highest right now and make an impact on them. The fund is local and is 100% going to COVID-19 related issues.”

They are also coordinating donations within the community, such as the Sanford Center's donation of prepared food from canceled events to Adult Day Services.

“We are also working hard in the community to make sure our food packs are going out to kids in need on the weekends,” Alamano said.

The United Way and community partners ensured that all children received at least eight days' worth of meals before schools closed earlier this week.

“Any child can get lunch or breakfast from the schools right now, and the schools are delivering food, too, for those that can’t get to the school,” Alamano said. “But our food packs will be going out of Friday to the kids in our program.”

She explained there are around 450 children in their program who have been identified as being in need of food on the weekends.

“We’ve always worked with the schools for the Backpack Buddies program, but now more than ever we are ensuring that we are working together.”

The Backpack Buddies program was developed to help ensure that children in the Bemidji school district have access to nutritious, non-perishable and easy-to-prepare food at times when other resources are not available, such as weekends and school vacations, according to the United Way website.

The United Way has their next shipment of food coming in on Monday, which will need to be packaged. But rather than having the community do it, they are sending it straight to the Bemidji High School.

“Teachers and staff there are going to put it all together, and then they will be delivering it out to those who need it,” Alamano explained.

“We know it’s a scary time to be volunteering, but there are volunteer opportunities for healthy people,” Alamano said. “If people want to make a big impact on making sure food is there for everybody, the emergency fund is a great way to do it.”

To support the United Way of Bemidji Area Emergency Fund, visit www.unitedwaybemidji.org/Emergency-Fund or call United Way at (218) 444-8929.

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