COVID-19 affected Will County nonprofits in unique ways. Here’s how the Spanish Community Center in Joliet addressed it.

8 nonprofits share how they survived, met the increased need and challenges in 2021

Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of an eight-part series.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nonprofits, especially nonprofits that provide health and human services, in very unique ways.

For instance, the need for their services increased – up to 300% in some cases – while nonprofits’ ability to fundraise to meet the need decreased.

Capacity restrictions and mitigations to keep staff and clients safe while providing the much-needed services added to the challenges.

In a December 2020 Herald-News story, United Way of Will County spokesperson Sarah Oprzedek said 30% of people in Will County were just over the poverty line, which meant they made too much to receive assistance and not enough to pay for necessities.

But even though society has opened back up doesn’t mean families and nonprofits have recovered from last year.

So the Herald-News recently asked eight Will County nonprofits the following questions: What was your biggest need pre-COVID? How did COVID affect your ability to serve your clients – as well as your ability to fundraise? What strategies did you implement? What is the biggest challenge for your organization in 2021?

Here is how the Spanish Community Center in Joliet answered those questions.

The Spanish Community Center in Joliet needed additional funding before the pandemic and that need remains today.

The Joliet center serves more than 1,000 people in that 130-year-old building every year, so it’s important that the space be safe and functional, according to Veronica Gloria, executive director.

“Given the needs of the community due to COVID-19, however, we postponed grant-writing and fundraising towards our facilities and focused all efforts on raising funds towards COVID-19 related needs and projects,” Gloria wrote in an email.

In the meantime, the center, too, modified its delivery of services. The walk-in food pantry became a drive-thru pantry. The child care program limited the number of children in a classroom at one time. Counseling services were performed over the phone or through video-conferencing, Gloria said.

The center also created a department to provide emergency housing cash assistance, so families impacted by COVID-19 could pay their rent, mortgage and utility bills, Gloria said.

“We also brought on health navigators thanks to funding from the state of Illinois to provide resources to those infected with COVID-19, such as delivering groceries and other essentials to their door,” Gloria said in an email. “Thanks to resources from Will County, the state of Illinois and City of Joliet, we were able to provide cash assistance, outreach and increased food pantry capacity for those impacted directly by COVID-19.”

Gloria said the community also donated to the food pantry and the center’s cash assistance program. These resources and donations were very helpful because the center had canceled all its fundraising. No golf outing. No annual dinner. No Fiesta en la Calle.

“Sharing our story with Herald readers was an important strategy for connecting with people who wanted to donate towards helping their COVID-19 impacted neighbors,” Gloria wrote.

Knowing that COVID-19 is still impacting families, Gloria said the primary focus for 2021 is connecting resources to those families.

“Many families are still behind on their bills, rent, and mortgage due to COVID-19, and the resources to help them catch up will not be around forever,” Gloria wrote in an email. “We must emphasize to families that now is the time to seek out the help and that the eviction moratorium will come to an end soon.”

The Spanish Community Center’s website said, “The Spanish Community Center is ready and equipped to help anyone in the community whether it be with employment, legal assistance, social services, or education programs.”

For a full list of services that the Spanish Community Center provides and for more information about the organization, visit spanishcenter.org.