An emergency fund born from the ashes of the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire has awarded more than half a million dollars in grants to Pikes Peak region nonprofits reeling from the economic effects of COVID-19.

The Pikes Peak Community Foundation COVID-19 Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund last week announced grant awards totaling $570,000 to nonprofit organizations in El Paso and Teller counties for “immediate and basic human needs of food, shelter, safety, transportation and healthcare. The focus is on those serving the most vulnerable populations,” said Gary Butterworth, CEO of PPCF.

As of April 2, the Emergency Relief Fund has raised more than $980,000 and received more than $3 million in grant requests, according to PPCF.

The Fund was able to act quickly because it was already in place when the coronavirus pandemic began. PPCF COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund grants are available to artists and small businesses as well as nonprofits. For more information and to apply or donate to the Fund, visit ppcf.org.

"It was set up in response to the Waldo Canyon Fire. We were learning from other communities who've gone through disasters that it's key to work with partners to establish a single trusted fund offering support in times of disaster," Butterworth said.

The thought was the fund would be there for the next disaster. "We were thinking it would be another wildfire, but this quite a different response — this disaster actually affects everybody," Butterworth said. "Fortunately we had a very generous seed funding before we began the current public campaign. ... Once the state of emergency was declared (due to COVID-19), we were able to activate it."

Today the fund is a partnership of PPCF, Pikes Peak United Way, the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management, Colorado Springs Health Foundation, El Paso County, the City of Colorado Springs and private citizen donors. Donations are ongoing, as are grant awards.

The trouble is the need for funding is much greater than the amount of donations to the fund.

"The need far exceeds what we've been able to raise," Butterworth said. The fund in the last few weeks received requests for more than $3 million in grant funding, and was able to help fund a good portion of the requests, but not all of it.

Helping in a very big way, "the Colorado Springs Health Foundation has committed $500,000 in this initial response effort," Butterworth said.

Early Connections Learning Centers in Colorado Springs was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Emergency Relief Fund last week. The money will be used for childcare services for essential and emergency personnel, said Diane L. Price, president and CEO of Early Connections.

"This grant has been very helpful for us, because obviously we're seeing a significant reduction in revenue right now," she said. "We're staying open to serve the people who are serving us. Our staff are still working. We're still here. Our families are still utilizing our services — even those who are working from home."

Price added that clients with young children who are suddenly working from home still need childcare. 

The multi-location business employs 84.

"Child care providers are front-line workers, too. They really are on the front line, just in a different kind of way," Price said. 

ECLC is currently not charging clients who have chosen not to use the centers' childcare during the shelter-in-place order.

"It's not the time for us to add stress to families. When this all happened, we said, 'if you don't come, you don't have to pay,'" Price said. "That's not who we are. We're going to make this work."

She said the state is offering free childcare for emergency responders, but many essential workers who were already taking their children to Early Connections want to continue to do so.

"There actually is free childcare available from the state for emergency responders, but we have stayed open to provide care for our families who are essential workers," Price said, adding that the definition of essential workers recently expanded to include certified grocery workers, gas station workers, truck drivers and delivery people.

Another grant award recipient is the faith-based Colorado Springs nonprofit Mercy's Gate, which offers rental and utilities assistance, a food pantry, transportation and clothing vouchers, medical and prescription assistance, legal and tax services, spiritual support and church referrals for the "working poor," said Executive Director Jason Dilger.

"Our goal is to reach a population of the working poor — which is about 40%, or 275,000 of Colorado Springs' population of 700,000. It's those people living paycheck-to-paycheck," Dilger said. "We want to prevent homelessness."

The nonprofit received a $10,000 grant award after requesting $24,200, he said. The grant funds will be applied toward food, housing, medical, transportation and overhead needs. 

While food donations are welcomed, financial donations go further as the nonprofit partners with Care and Share Food Bank to purchase food at a discounted rate.

"Every dollar makes a difference," Dilger said. "For every dollar that comes in, 87% goes directly to what we do."

In recent days, those served by Mercy's Gate's food pantry "have been becoming very anxious, very angry. People have enough to get through, but we notice people are on edge. We hope to be a mainstay to those people," Dilger said. To make a donation or volunteer for Mercy's Gate, visit mercysgatecs.org.  

"Typically when there's a recession, historically, giving drops. If nothing's coming in, there's nothing to go out," Dilger said.

To learn more about grants awarded to Teller County nonprofits, see this related story in the April 1 Pikes Peak Courier, "Pikes Peak Community Foundation provides emergency aid to nonprofits."

Editor, Pikes Peak Newspapers

In June 2019, Michelle became editor of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers: Pikes Peak Courier; The Tribune; and the Cheyenne and Woodmen editions. A Penn State journalism graduate, she joined the Gazette staff in 2015.

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