Rally Reno a conduit for help throughout 2020
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Not much was known about COVID-19 a little more than a year ago, but furloughs, layoffs, shutdowns, and quarantines soon became a part of everyone’s regular vocabulary.
As the community anticipated the consequences of the emerging crisis, the early warnings from the health, social service, and business sectors about what Reno County faced were dire. No one quite knew what might emerge from the fog, but whatever was coming couldn’t be good.
Amid those swirling uncertainties last spring, one thing was certain to the staffs of the United Way of Reno County, Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce, and Hutchinson Community Foundation: the community was going to need help.
By now, the story of Rally Reno is well-documented. The organizations, feeling an urgent need to act, swiftly teamed up to launch the gift-card-purchasing platform RallyReno.org on March 26, 2020.
The community quickly embraced the initiative as an outlet for helping sustain hard-hit local businesses and friends and neighbors in need. Gift-card purchases were matched by a community foundation donor and those dollars funneled into the Reno County VOAD Unmet Needs Fund.
For many of the 95 participating businesses, the $151,588 generated through Rally Reno provided an economic lifeline during the shutdown.
“The collective efforts brought an injection of dollars that helped many stay afloat — helping them with the most basic of expenses,” said Chamber President Debra Teufel. “Some said it made the difference by simply helping them pay utilities, insurance, and rent. This would not have been possible without the 770 people purchasing over 2,500 gift cards.”
For families and nonprofits in need, Rally Reno became a doorway to COVID relief, not just last spring but throughout 2020 when the website continued as an application portal to family economic assistance and COVID relief grants after the gift card program ended in May.
Ultimately, the grant applications collected through the website resulted in 34 nonprofits, private schools, and child care providers receiving a total of $1,205,000 in emergency assistance thanks to contributions from community foundation and United Way donors, and federal CARES Act money.
Dealing with the 917 applications for family assistance that poured in through the website was both gratifying and heavy work, said Lisa Gleason, executive director of United Way of Reno County, which oversaw the Unmet Needs Fund.
“The needs of those who had been financially affected by COVID were great and sometimes their stories took a toll on our staff trying to find the best avenue for support,” she said. “It was at times difficult for us to even keep up with meeting those needs with our small office, and our team had to continually adapt.”
In all, 423 Reno County families received a total of $227,694 in assistance.
Gleason said the Rally Reno experience provided the United Way the chance to learn more about the barriers residents in crisis face in Reno County.
“United Way has been working on the crisis entry into our community for some time now, but this disaster work shined a huge spotlight on the gaps here in Reno County,” she said. “These are things we never would’ve learned had we not been so ensconced in the work.”
These new observations prompted United Way staff and others working on the front lines of the social support system to experiment with how those in crisis can best access and receive resources. Some of the trials are currently underway, with the hope of achieving permanent innovations in the system.
For now, the Rally Reno assistance program has ended. The partners agreed the site will remain as a tool for use during the next community challenge or initiative. But in the meantime, it will eventually house links to community resources.
Reflecting on the past 13 months and the Rally Reno project, Hutchinson Community Foundation President and CEO Aubrey Abbott Patterson said the strengthened relationships between the United Way, Chamber of Commerce, and community foundation stood out as a bright spot amid the year’s difficulties.
“Because of the pandemic, we know each other and our roles better than ever before. We’re clearer about our organizational strengths, and we know how to lean on each other for support when we need it,” Patterson said. “The relationships we’ve formed will continue, and when the next challenge arises, we’ll be ready to jump into the work together.”