During the past few months, almost everything has changed, from how organizations operate; to our daily routines; to the way we connect with each other. One thing remains the same: Berks County’s caring spirit and generosity.

When the pandemic first hit our area, United Way of Berks County’s Board of Directors established the COVID-19 Response Fund to support nonprofits on the frontline to help with the community’s most immediate needs, with the organization committing $100,000.

Several community leaders and foundations quickly shared their commitment to the cause, as well. The Wyomissing Foundation and The Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust each provided a $100,000 gift. A series of Challenge Matches provided by Customers Bank, The Kindness Coalition, Karen and John Arnold and Dena and Vic Hammel allowed individual donors to double their contributions and help those hardest hit by the crisis.

This week, United Way announced a significant milestone: more than $1 million has been raised by the Response Fund. All dollars raised, minus any credit card fees, are supporting crucial programs to help alleviate staggering needs around food, shelter and essential items. Additionally, funds have been used to help keep nonprofit staff safe by proving PPEs.

“It is incredible to witness the kindness and generosity of so many people and organizations uniting to help feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and provide so many basic essentials for our struggling neighbors,” said Tammy White, President of United Way of Berks County.

To date, 33 grants totaling nearly $525,000 have been awarded, with additional grant applications under review. A panel of volunteers with experience in identifying community needs and fund distribution reviews all grant applications.

Nick Marmontello, who is serving on the panel, shared he is amazed and heartened by the amount of work done by all of the groups receiving grants. “What has impressed me most is the resiliency of our nonprofits to deliver services that are desperately needed by so many people,” he said. “So many of us live in a very sheltered world, while others are struggling for basic needs like food, diapers, personal care items, utilities and so many other things. I’m awestruck by how the community has come together.”

Family Promise, an agency that works with homeless families and teens, values the support of the Response Fund. “We have seen a significant uptick on the number of applications from clients needing rent and utility assistance.”

“Many individuals and families who had completing our programs now find themselves jobless again because of COVID. The dollars we received from United Way’s fund help our clients hold onto some stability. The economic repercussions of the pandemic will be long-lasting,” said Elise Chesson, executive director of Family Promise.

“The pandemic has created extraordinary stress on our community, and the challenges continue to evolve. We know it’s going to take collaboration and many resources to address additional emerging needs,” added White.

“We are so grateful for the kindness and generosity of everyone who supported the fund. That support means more kids and families have access to healthy food, basic needs can be met and those seeking shelter are safe. This community is very special.”