Even in good times, local nonprofits that care for everything from people to animals to the environment face funding challenges. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made an impact on most of them and put some of them in a bind.

With donations down and fundraisers postponed, there is less money coming in even as the need for help grows. Those getting by for now worry about the months to come.

"It's a nightmare," said Tina Tate, executive director of Friendship House shelter in Mount Vernon. "It keeps me up at night."

Rose Torset, president of the Sedro-Woolley Lions Club, said it's a tough situation.

"But we are doing all that we can with what we have," she said.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County Executive Director Ron McHenry said nonprofits do have something going for them: They are used to finding creative ways to make ends meet.

“We’re forced, in the best of times, to be innovative and be really mindful of how we do things,” he said. “When you have to pivot and change everything — that’s the space we already live in.”

While flexibility helps, some are worried about the long-term impact of the pandemic, which will continue diverting government funds to other needs and will hamper the ability of some donors to give.

"Not only are the nonprofits out there going to be struggling to get money, but those individuals and community groups who usually give the money might not be able to," Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group Executive Director Alison Studley said.

Social services

The pandemic hit Skagit County just days before Friendship House's annual En Vogue fashion show — its biggest fundraiser of the year.

Tate is looking into holding the event online, but said she doubts it would raise as much as usual.

It's possible the organization will have to make cuts to stay afloat, she said.

"It may ultimately come down to cutting services," Tate said.

The pandemic has also caused Friendship House to make adjustments to meet social distancing guidelines.

One room in each of its two houses is reserved for quarantine, and residents are instructed to wear masks. Some beds must be kept empty at the shelter.

It stopped serving sit-down meals to the homeless at its Mount Vernon café and instead hands out meals to go. That's been of particular concern for the well-being of those served.

"It's about coming in and sitting down and getting warmed up," Tate said. "Not having that really causes a lot of depression."

Skagit Habitat for Humanity had to cancel its major annual fundraiser. Executive Director Teresa Pugh said the nonprofit may hold a virtual auction instead.

It temporarily closed its Skagit Habitat Store in Mount Vernon, which sells repurposed and discounted building materials and home improvement items, providing funds for the construction of affordable homes. Pugh said the store is the organization's largest revenue source and also provides job skills training to its nine employees and offers volunteer opportunities.

The store plans to reopen with new safety measures once Skagit County moves to Phase 2.

Construction of two affordable homes in Sedro-Woolley was allowed to resume under Phase 1 under new safety requirements. Pugh said the nonprofit had planned to start construction of a third home in the fall, but the reduction of funds and limited volunteers may impact the timeline.

She said the pandemic has created additional stress on those already experiencing housing instability.

"For us to be able to provide affordable homes to people, it completely changes their finances and health," she said.

At Community Action of Skagit County, many programs have been expanded to meet need.

"My big-picture message is Community Action is here, and we're serving the community," said community engagement manager Elizabeth Jennings.

She said donations have held up, but she's concerned that once Gov. Jay Inslee's eviction moratorium and extra federal unemployment benefits expire, needs will increase.

Service groups

Some service organizations may not be able to match past levels of charitable giving.

"We support a lot of activities and a lot of organizations here in the community such as Friendship House and Viva Farms, and we have numerous building projects we have done," said Darrell Hooper, assistant governor of Rotary District 5050 Area I and a member of Burlington Morning Rotary. "But without that money, I don't know how much we can do."

Torset echoed those sentiments.

The Lions Club had to cancel its White Cane Days event, which focuses on vision issues.

"It's one of our major fundraisers of the year," she said. "It helps those people who are blind, need glasses or eye surgeries. We were unable to do that this year."

Money raised through such fundraisers is often earmarked for not only building and community improvement projects, but also local scholarships.

Torset said the Lions will award their usual scholarships: one of $2,000 and two for $1,500.

"We had enough funds on hand to do three scholarships," she said. "But who is to say if we are going to be able to continue to do that."

Rotary's Hooper said the hope is to maintain scholarships for seniors. 

"All the clubs, I believe, have reserves of some sort, so they will be able to draw from that," he said.

But because the club keeps about six months of reserve funding, it expects to be able to continue its work.

“We don’t anticipate having to reduce support to the community, at least not this year,” club president Chuck Flagg said.

Flagg estimates scholarships this fall will total about $40,000.

Still, the bottom line is that charitable giving for service clubs is going to be tight, and the impact could be felt over time.

Animal welfare

Those who care for domestic animals are feeling the pinch, too.

Donations are down about 15% for the Skagit Humane Society, which had to cancel its June fundraiser.

"We'll have to do another, innovative way to get support," said Executive Director Janine Ceja.

Despite the drop in donations, Ceja said she continues to be impressed that money is coming in, given the financial pain many are going through.

"I'm amazed. I'll see a $100 check, a $500 check. But I understand everyone has been hit," she said.

Skagit Animals in Need (SAIN) has seen an increase in donations, and much of that is going to a recently launched Animals Assistance Program. It's set up to help pet owners who may struggle to care for their animals.

Samantha Cabaluna, marketing director for SAIN, said the program was launched earlier than planned when the pandemic's impacts became apparent.

SAIN has also received a grant from Skagit Community Foundation. 

For the Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on San Juan Island, the federal Payment Protection Program is allowing it to continue operating into June.

With spring being the busiest time of year for those who care for injured wildlife from throughout the region, the loan program was critical. But the organization expects challenges to come.

"At this moment we're doing well; it just depends on how everything plays out," Executive Director Chanda Stone said. "We're sort of holding our breath and hoping we have enough resources to keep going."

Environment efforts

A combination of grants, donations and government assistance has helped some environmental nonprofits get through this early part of the pandemic. 

As it continues, though, funding sources could dry up or be diverted to other operations, such as food banks.

"There's going to be a real strain on fundraising in general. There's going to be a lot of people in need and a lot of community groups in need," said Studley of Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.

Skagit Fisheries expects a drop in funding that comes from the sales of fishing licenses, too. Fishing opportunities were delayed and remain limited, and many usual buyers might skip the expense this year.

"April is generally the big license sale season, and in April, of course, there was no fishing season, so there were hardly any license sales," Studley said.

The outlook for fall is also on the minds of many who hold their big fundraisers during that season.

"At this point, we don't know how that's going to go. I think it's a whole new world, and we'll have to see what happens," Jack Hartt of Transition Fidalgo & Friends said. 

The potential for stay-home orders and social distancing to continue into fall has Friends of Skagit Beaches worried.

"Our October Fidalgo Shoreline Academy lecture series is up in the air. It is our one primary fundraiser of the year, so we are concerned," organization President Tim Gohrke said.

Some already feel an impact. The closure in March of the Brezeale Interpretive Center at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve meant donations for the Padilla Bay Foundation took a big hit.

"That swept up our operations of the gift shop and any donations that would come into the donations box from visitors to the exhibits," foundation Administrator Kay Reinhardt said.

One bright spot for some was a GiveBIG campaign in early May.

"It was a big success. It was better than we were expecting," Friends of the Forest Executive Director Asa Deane said. "We actually ended up getting over $7,000 from the community, so we were really just blown away."

Another bright spot for Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, like for Wolf Hollow, has been the Payment Protection Program, which allowed it to compensate staff for work usually handled by volunteers.

Youth programs

With schools closed for the rest of the school year and the future unknown, fundraising to benefit youths and activities remains in limbo.

Madison Elementary School in Mount Vernon had to cancel its May 2 fun run, one of the most lucrative fundraisers sponsored by the school's parent-teacher organization each year.

The good news is that with schools being shut down, there are no field trips for the PTO to fund, said PTO representative Traci Gromus. The bad news is the loss of connection between the school and its families.

"(It's) the memories," she said. "We were supposed to have dinosaurs roaming Madison on March 13. Fifth-graders are so sad that they don’t get to go to Mountain School."

While it continues to operate during the pandemic, McHenry said the Boys & Girls Clubs of Skagit County did not have the luxury to pause its fundraising or delay key fundraising events. 

“We needed the revenue," he said. "We couldn’t just wait until the fall. We’re entering what already would have been our busiest season, and now it's costing us three times as much money to do half as much work.”

Since March, the organization has held two of its biggest fundraisers, including its "Building Great Futures" breakfast that was held online May 21.

Both are expected to bring in about 75% to 80% of normal donations, McHenry said.

Meanwhile, operating expenses have climbed. This year the organization was expecting to need to raise about $2.1 million, but the pandemic raised costs, pushing the need to between $2.5 million and $2.7 million.

“It’s going to be really, really tight for awhile,” McHenry said.

In the category of silver linings, the organization has seen an increase in smaller, individual donations even though overall fundraising is down, he said.

“Every gift is meaningful, and everyone is definitely helping to make a difference,” McHenry said. “During the bad times, when they themselves are struggling, they’re still sharing those resources. It makes us want to work doubly hard on their behalf.”

Health care

As Skagit Regional Health works to treat the community on the front lines of the pandemic, the Skagit Valley Hospital Foundation is assisting by raising funds. 

Executive Director Linda Frizzell expects that help from the foundation now will be more needed than ever.

Like other hospitals in the state, Skagit Valley Hospital canceled elective procedures in March, which means it's losing out on expected revenue.

"We're going to have to fill in those gaps with philanthropic dollars," Frizzell said.

The hospital received donations of personal protective equipment from 120 individuals or companies, and staff are receiving food donations regularly, she said.

The foundations' two largest fundraisers — in August and November — are still scheduled. The summer golf tournament received approval to go forward with social distancing rules, she said.

When the Island Hospital Foundation had to postpone its annual fundraiser, the Gala of Hope, this spring, it lost out of funds at a time it needed them most.

“Without having that, we’re obviously in a deficit,” foundation Director Jeannette Papadakis said.

An emergency COVID-19 relief fund has been set up in the interim, and Papadakis said the donations are helping with front-line defense.

The Gala of Hope has been rescheduled for Oct. 24.


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