Northland nonprofits receive $1.1 million in hour of need through COVID-19 relief fund

Area foundations recognized the impact the virus would have on organizations that provide vital services and stepped up to provide support.

grant foundations.jpg
(Getty Images / News Tribune)

As COVID-19 cases began to surface in the Northland, the leadership of several regional foundations was quick to recognize that nonprofits would be hard-hit by the outbreak.

Representatives of five foundations first met to discuss how best to respond on March 17 and quickly decided to join forces, recalled Holly Sampson, president and CEO of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation .

"We knew at that point that nonprofit organizations would really be seriously impacted and would face serious challenges as COVID-19 started impacting our community," she said.

To address the challenge, the Community Foundation pooled its resources with those of the Head of the Lakes United Way , the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation , the Northland Foundation and the Ordean Foundation .

Sampson said they focused on organizations that serve vulnerable populations, those that would need to adapt operations because of the virus and those that previously relied heavily on volunteer support.


Holly Sampson.jpg
Holly Sampson

Together, the five regional foundations amassed $1.1 million in relief, receiving help along the way from the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund and from benefactors such as Husky Energy, which donated $50,000. That money went to assist more than 60 nonprofits in Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin.

"We are truly blessed to have so many nonprofits that bring so much to our community," said Joan Gardner-Goodno, executive director of the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation, at a Thursday morning online news conference with representatives of several grant-recipient organizations.

"You are the folks that take care of our children, that help those who are struggling through poverty and addictions, experiencing domestic violence and so many other needs and services that you bring to the community," she said.

"But this virus has impacted everything. It has impacted everything you do, and we're aware that it has made everything more challenging, and it has necessitated a whole different way of accomplishing long-held goals," Gardner-Goodno said, noting that nevertheless, regional nonprofits have risen to the challenge.

St. Ann's Residence, an assisted-living facility in Duluth, was one of the beneficiaries of the relief fund. When the COVID-19 outbreak struck St. Ann's, taking several lives, relief funds from the foundations helped cover the cost of increased hazard pay to help retain essential staff and additional financial resources to hire more nurses and health experts, said Scott Johnson, the organization's executive director.


Scott Johnson.jpg
Scott Johnson

Duluth Bethel, a drug and alcohol treatment center, was forced to discontinue many of its on-site operations when the pandemic struck, but with grant money, center staff have been able to offer telehealth services.

"This is really a game-changer," Dennis Cummings, executive director of Duluth Bethel, said.

Thanking those who donated to the relief fund, Cummings said: "Please know that your dollars are making a huge and dramatic difference."

Dennis Cummings.jpg
Dennis Cummings

Relief funds were used by the Superior Douglas County Family YMCA to provide daycare and summer camp services for the children of first responders and other essential workers.

"I have to say that the speed with which these grants came out is super-impressive," Chris Stenberg, CEO of the organization, said. "You guys recognized early on that these funds were going to be needed, and it needed to happen quickly."


Sampson said area foundations will continue to raise money to provide additional support for Northland nonprofits.

"We know that COVID-19 is going to be a continuing problem as we move forward through the summer and the fall. The estimates that we have been hearing from our local hospitals is that we may not be peaking in our communities across northern Minnesota until the end of August or early September, and there could be waves," she said.

Donations can be made online at or may be mailed to Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Medical Arts Building, Suite 700, 324 W. Superior St., Duluth MN 55802.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
What To Read Next
Get Local