‘Many hands make the work light’
Pictured: Community Foundation staff volunteer to help the Dubuque Area Labor Harvest with a food delivery during the pandemic.
When the pandemic moved from the headlines to our hometown, we began to see how life would change. Dubuque schools closed quickly to protect the health of students and staff — but new challenges immediately arose.
“The first thought we had was, how are we going feed all these children? They rely on us,” said Shirley Horstman, executive director of student services for the Dubuque Community School District. Acting nimbly, school officials and food providers adapted their summer meal distribution system for a new reality, providing nutritious food for hundreds of children who might have otherwise lacked access.
Horstman shared her story during a recent virtual panel discussion hosted by the Community Foundation. “Community Connections: The Story of 2020” was an opportunity to reflect on the many ways community members came together during an unprecedented year to help people meet their basic needs.
The discussion featured panelists from local organizations that have served the community during the pandemic and drew attendees who supported the Greater Dubuque Disaster Recovery Fund and wanted to learn more about how their generosity made a difference.
Watch a recording of the panel discussion — Passcode: Ts@@xa4$
Since March 2020, the Community Foundation, through the Disaster Recovery Fund, has raised and granted nearly $2 million to support organizations on the front lines of the pandemic response, and panelists shared how those dollars helped build capacity to take quick action and work together in new ways to address systemic challenges.
The COVID-19 crisis highlighted how systems and communities are connected, panelists said. As a result, collaboration was key to an effective response.
“Partnerships are really what helped our community get through this,” said panelist Danielle Peterson, president and CEO of the United Way of Dubuque Area Tri-States.
For example, Peterson and Stacy Sherman, outreach director for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, shared how collaboration among local nonprofits and the East Central Intergovernmental Association built on the success of an existing homelessness hotline to create a single point of contact for residents in need of support for rent, utilities and other general assistance.
“Instead of calling five agencies for help, people can now call one number,” Sherman said. "This will build capacity in our nonprofit system to serve the community.”
While the Disaster Recovery Fund and the work of local organizations has made an immediate difference, challenges created by the pandemic are far from over, panelists said. Studies have shown that the impact of the pandemic on people’s brain health could last for years, and the impact on household finances has led to continued need for utility and housing support.
Investing in the Future
In helping address immediate needs due to the pandemic, the Disaster Recovery Fund has been an important resource. Looking ahead, though, the community needs a different option to help prepare for future crises and emerging needs. The Greater Dubuque Forever Fund offers a way to harness the generous spirit that has gotten the community through the pandemic and direct it toward future opportunities and challenges — whatever they might be.
“We have to remember, we are all in this together,” said panelist Gisella Aitken-Shadle, district adult education and literacy development director for Northeast Iowa Community College. "Many hands make the work light.”
Learn how you can support the community’s future needs at dbqfoundation.org/forever.