Linn County nonprofits, seeing demand for help rise following derecho, share needs with senators

Published: Sep. 2, 2020 at 11:41 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Nonprofit organizations in eastern Iowa said they’re seeing demands for their assistance rise after the derecho and will need help themselves to keep serving their communities.

Representatives from 20 nonprofits in Linn County met with Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst for a roundtable discussion at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday.

Most of those organizations said before the Aug. 10 storm, they had already been working through an increased request for their services because of the COVID-19 pandemic, while at the same time experiencing their own funding shortfalls, especially because of canceled fundraisers and other events.

Sofia Mehaffey, the community health and nutrition director for Horizons, said the organization’s Meals on Wheels program delivers food regularly to about 1,200 older adults in a normal year, but that number has risen about 25% since the start of the pandemic.

Then the derecho hit.

“We, unfortunately, lost 4,000 prepared frozen meals and over a ton of food that was in the cooler and in the freezers,” Mehaffey said, noting that totaled to about a week’s worth of meals they lost. “And then not being able to restock that right away because we didn’t have the power to operate our machines and cook our food, it took us a while to get back on track.”

Like some of the other nonprofits represented at Wednesday’s roundtable, Mehaffey said Horizons is facing its own storm-related damages, including the condemnation of one of its buildings because of major roof damage.

She said the Horizons staff is anticipating needing to help even more people long-term because of the derecho.

“We would definitely benefit from additional dollars being available for older adults to receive Meals on Wheels service,” she said.

Les Garner, president and CEO of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, said they noted six major areas of need for local nonprofits as a result of the pandemic and derecho: housing; food insecurity; health and mental health; environment and agriculture; safety net; and nonprofit sustainability.

For more than an hour Wednesday, Grassley and Ernst listened to each organization’s representative share their experiences dealing with the disaster and what help they need at this point.

Ernst said afterward that there are a number of steps they can take to help these nonprofits when Congress returns to Washington next week, including a targeted relief bill she is working on with other Senate Republicans.

“One is working on that targeted relief package, and I feel very good about some of the things they were asking for, we have included in that package,” Ernst said.

Grassley said he didn’t believe the requests brought forth by the nonprofits Wednesday were the types of “controversial” asks that could hold up an agreement on a future relief bill.

“It’s things like the enhanced federal unemployment that would go along with state unemployment insurance and aid to state and local communities like we did in the first one, some more of that,” he said. “Those tend to be the two things that are holding up everything, pretty much, as far as I know.”

Some nonprofit leaders implored Grassley and Ernst to act with urgency as their community works through two crises.

“People in this community that are good, hardworking, blue-collar folks that have pulled themselves up over and over and over are at their breaking point,” said Clint Twedt-Ball, executive director for Matthew 25.

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