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Column: ‘The helpers’ are stretched thin; time for us all to pitch in

December 8th, 2020

Reprinted from The Columbus Dispatch – December 6, 2020

Fred Rogers’ famous advice to “look for the helpers” in times of crisis is uplifting and comforting. But what do we do as a community when the helpers are being stretched beyond their means?

Franklin County is at significant risk of not having the capacity to help people facing dire circumstances due to the impacts of COVID-19. Federal financial support has provided a lifeline to millions of employers and individuals here and across the country. But those supports will either be exhausted or expire this month.

They include the eviction moratorium, pandemic emergency unemployment compensation, pandemic unemployment assistance, 2020 rebate checks, student loan forbearance, small business debt relief, charitable deduction limits, and so forth. All of this is coinciding with a terrifying spike in COVID-19 cases that is straining our health care system.

Therefore, unless Congress passes a new round of stimulus immediately, our people will suffer even more than they already have in this tumultuous year. According to Michael Corey, executive director of the Human Service Chamber of Franklin County, our community safety net is already under unprecedented strain, and without federal stimulus, it would be almost impossible for nonprofits to maintain current business operations or service offerings. Make no mistake that as we enter the coldest months of the year, we will be unable to meet the needs of our community unless Congress acts now.

Central Ohio, this is not a drill. A humanitarian crisis is knocking on our door that will leave families without food, shelter and other life-saving necessities. We need you to use your voices and give what you can. It’s time for us all to become the helpers. Here is how you can take action:

First, contact Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown to thank them for supporting the passage of stimulus legislation, and to urge them to lead their colleagues in passing another bipartisan, comprehensive bill that is proportional to the enormous needs in our community.

As we speak, deliberations are under way in Washington — but they have only until Dec. 11 to get something signed into law. They need our help to get this done. In the coming week, please make a point to speak up. Every single call, email and letter matters because elected officials track and respond to volume. We have the power to move this mountain if we can get Congress to act now.

Second, give what you can to nonprofit organizations that understand our community’s greatest needs and can distribute funds where they will make significant impacts. United Way of Central Ohio, The Columbus Foundation, Jewish Columbus and The Catholic Foundation has each successfully raised and distributed millions of dollars for COVID-19 relief because they have the infrastructure that allows for large-scale emergency support.

If you made a donation earlier this year, please consider giving again. The losses experienced by nonprofit organizations are more than what has been raised by our community. Also, consider making a recurring donation that provides support for months to come.

Finally, get involved with nonprofit organizations. Follow them on social media or sign up for newsletters. That way you can be aware of their needs in real time, share their posts on your social channels and offer immediate support. Also, sign up to volunteer. There are many safe and socially distant ways you can donate your time and make a difference.

The social workers and caseworkers and everyone else on the front line in the nonprofit sector have been doing heroic, Herculean work this year. And we are so proud to serve them and so grateful for the benevolence of the Columbus region in supporting them. With vaccines coming soon, there is a light at the end of the tunnel at last. But before the vaccines arrive, we need to come together to help the helpers.

Indeed, we can all be the helpers right now. As Mr. Rogers said, “Real strength has to do with helping others.” When central Ohio stands together as one united neighborhood, we are strong. Please join us in the fight to help one another, and do your part to help alleviate strain on our health care system: Wear masks, stay six feet apart and avoid poorly ventilated indoor areas. Thank you.

Lisa S. Courtice is president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Central Ohio.

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