‘We help smooth out the process’

Fund targets Lake County’s vaccination efforts

WAUKEGAN – Now supporting vaccination efforts for the most vulnerable, a Lake County Community Crisis Relief Fund launched during the COVID-19 pandemic has become permanent.

Through the fund, the Lake County Community Foundation has provided more than $1.2 million to at least 27 nonprofit organizations throughout the area. Since March 2020, the funding has helped nonprofit organizations address urgent and basic needs, such as hunger, shelter, mental health, rent, utility assistance and senior services.

“We wanted to create something here for the long haul,” said Emily Weber, manager of community leadership and investment for the foundation.

In making the fund permanent, the foundation can provide a resource for any future community crisis, as well as support for ongoing vaccination efforts, she said.

“We’re just really trying to address the disparity in access to the vaccine,” she said.

Future money raised for the fund will help provide vaccination supplies, transportation to and from vaccination appointments, translation services, additional vaccinators and education and outreach materials.

Efforts to increase access to vaccines and vaccine information will focus on seniors and communities most impacted by COVID-19.

“Transportation can be a really key issue” Weber said. “It’s really important to get senior citizens vaccinated because of the higher risk. Many are unable to get to that vaccine site.”

Among the nonprofit organizations receiving funding through the Lake County Community Crisis Relief Fund is the Waukegan-based Roberti Community House, which has helped register people for vaccines in the community and provided emergency food and other services to those in need.

That number has risen during the pandemic.

The amount of support provided by the Roberti Community House (www.roberticommunityhouse.org) has increased 225% since 2019, said Maribeth Roberti, executive director of the Roberti Community House.

With pop-ups and daily lunches, the decade-old organization provides fresh produce, prepared meals and groceries for community members to make meals at home, she said.

“So many of the families are in the service industry and they lost jobs or their hours have been cut back, so we’ve been really looking at ways to support families through this,” she said.

“It’s been mostly with food support or resources for housing, but sometimes families need to make a choice. Do I choose the money for food or do I need it to pay electric or different bills? A lot of our families have been hit very hard.”

As the number of those in need has expanded, the organization’s circle of support has grown to allow outreach in buildings where seniors or the medically fragile are located, she said.

Along with helping to register people for the vaccine, the organization’s more than 70 volunteers can provide information on the vaccine and where to turn for resources while working with the Lake County Health Department, she said.

“People are familiar with us,” she said. “We’ve been a consistent presence this last year so they’re able to ask us questions.”

Nonprofit agencies also are working to connect people, especially seniors, to vaccination resources. Some might not have access to email or internet or need assistance completing the registration, Roberti said.

“We help smooth out the process for them,” she said.

Other nonprofit organizations will use the funding in similar ways.

“Each group is using the strategy most effective to reach those in the communities they’re serving.” Weber said. “There are a lot of really incredible nonprofits that have really stepped up and served our community in a big way, and I know they’ll continue to help out.”

Made up of five staff members and a board of directors, the Lake County Community Foundation brings together philanthropists and donors to build funds to benefit Lake County.

A crisis response team helps those involved in the foundation identify community needs, as well as the nonprofit organizations needing support to make the most impact in the county, Weber said.

Funding always is sought. Private funding helps fill in gaps created by the delay of government funds.

Community members and businesses can learn more or donate via credit card at www.lakecountycf.org/lake-county-community-crisis-relief-fund.

“There’s immense wealth here, but there’s also immense need,” Weber said. “COVID has exasperated that need.”