In mid-March, the ripple effects of COVID-19 flipped my personal life – and the lives of so many parents – upside down. My three kids exchanged lessons at their school desks for distance learning at our kitchen table. We scrapped the plans we had with cousins and grandparents, youth sports were cancelled and the unspent energy overflowed as all we all wanted was to get out and be with others after an especially long New England winter.
Chaos on the home-front was nothing when compared with the pandemic’s impact on my professional world. Here’s what I mean by that. At Voices for Healthy Kids, we are committed to making each day healthier for all children starting where the need is the greatest and by centering equity within everything we do.
As the new coronavirus began to spread, our team of staff, grantees and partners tried to figure out how we could be of most relevance as it became clear that the communities we prioritize are the very same communities being hit hardest by COVID-19.
We needed to shift the work we were already doing to focus on the inequity COVID-19 exacerbated and to meet the growing need as more people became unemployed, lost health insurance coverage and faced food insecurity. And we needed to make that shift fast.
With the immediate blessing from the Voices for Healthy Kids Strategic Advisory Committee, the American Heart Association’s senior leadership and funders, our entire staff jumped into action to retrofit grantmaking so we could direct dollars quickly to community groups working on safety net issues that fell within our policy portfolio – or pretty close! A Voices for Healthy Kids COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant program went from idea to implementation in record time. In terms of our staff morale, it felt like we moved from despondent to unstoppably determined overnight.
During the month of May, we brought 600 new organizations into the Voices for Healthy Kids family, reviewed nearly 200 grant applications and funded 22 nonprofits focused on assisting communities most affected by COVID-19.
With our COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants, 19 states, Puerto Rico and the Lummi Nation will receive a total of $1 million to address the work they are doing to help children and families living in under-resourced communities gain better access to healthy food, health care and income support.
The need is great. We know in the grand scheme of the impact of COVID-19, $1 million will not be the ultimate game-changer, but we are confident that our COVID-19 Rapid Response grantees have what it takes to begin to bridge the gap.
Behind the scenes, we are also working on our future funding opportunities and looking far and wide for additional resources to support more of this important work. Most critically, we are even more invested and committed to using the Voices for Healthy Kids infrastructure to address historic and systemic racism. It has always been our goal, but the urgency of COVID-19 put a bright light on ways that policy can and must begin to reverse the conditions that cause systemic racism and health inequities. Lucky for us, policy change is what we do.
We welcome our 22 new grantees on board and thank them for showing us how we can use our resources to help the communities they know best. No doubt, the lessons we learn together will have a positive ripple effect on children, families and communities nationwide.