Five major Duluth-based funding organizations are coming together to support charities providing vital community services that could be negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Ordean Foundation, Northland Foundation, Head of the Lakes United Way and Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation have established the COVID-19 Northeast Minnesota Response Fund, it was announced Thursday at a Duluth City Hall news conference.

The fund will be housed at the Community Foundation and support "local charities on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it causes," according to President and CEO Holly Sampson.

"We are all extremely concerned about the impact that this crisis is having and will have on all of our nonprofit organizations," she said. "We're concerned about revenue streams that will decline significantly because of the cancellation of fundraising events and activities. That is a tremendous source of revenue for these vital nonprofit organizations.

"We're also concerned because nonprofit organizations rely on a base of volunteer support, and that volunteer support is diminishing as well," Sampson said. "We're concerned about the staff that work on the front lines every day to support all sectors of our community, and just like the health care institutions they will be vulnerable as they work with residents across our communities."

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It's not the first time the groups have united. Many of the same organizations came together to create emergency response funds following the 2012 flood.

Sampson said discussions are underway to establish a similar COVID-19 fund for Northwestern Wisconsin and other specific communities across the region.

“Already we are seeing how COVID-19 is impacting our community," Matt Hunter, president of the local United Way, said in a statement. "Businesses are shutting their doors to protect public health, and people are losing income. We want to support the safety net that will support these individuals and their families at a time of need and uncertainty.”

More information on how to donate is available at dsacommunityfoundation.org/covid-19-response-fund.

Blood donations 'urgent'

Meanwhile, blood donations are critical as the nation faces an unprecedented modern health crisis, said Angela Engblom of Memorial Blood Centers in Duluth. The sole provider of blood to more than 30 area hospitals, including Essentia and St. Luke's, Memorial has an "urgent need" for donors, she said.

"Nearly all of the blood that we collect in the Northland supports patients right here in the community," Engblom said. "A stable supply of blood is needed for hospitals as a critical component of emergency preparedness, and we are asking for your support to make sure we have that continuous supply."

Blood drives have been canceled across the nation, Engblom said, and people are being asked to stay home as much as possible. But giving blood is still a safe activity, she said. Donation sites are getting extra cleaning and staff is spacing out appointments and beds.

Donors must be free from cold- or flu-like symptoms for three days and will be screened for high temperatures. Those who have recently traveled to high-risk areas or had contact with anyone potentially experiencing COVID-19 cannot donate.

Recent decisions from Essentia and St. Luke's to postpone elective procedures will help the area maintain a stable blood supply, Engblom said.

"If you're at home and you're feeling healthy and looking for a safe way to give back, please give blood," she said.

Workers, businesses offered assistance

As small businesses and their employees face weeks and months of uncertainty — and, for some, unemployment — local, state and federal officials are pushing relief measures.

With the state of Minnesota extending its due date for February sales taxes, the city of Duluth is following suit by moving the month's tourism tax deadline from March 20 to April 20.

“Extending the due date for these payments is the right thing to do,” Mayor Emily Larson said. “While we aren’t eliminating these payments entirely, as they are critical for the city to continue to provide the services that you rely on, we do want to recognize that providing some flexibility right now will be helpful during this time.”

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson talks to the media during Thursday’s news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic the city pushed back the due date for February tourism tax returns. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson talks to the media during Thursday’s news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the pandemic the city pushed back the due date for February tourism tax returns. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

With most city employees working from home, the services of the Workforce Development office will continue with some changes, director Elena Foshay said.

Staff is "acting fast to adjust our services to current needs," she said. That includes the elimination of in-person appointments and the addition of more staff to answer phones.

The department's Career Lab office remains open to a maximum of five people at a time, continuing to offer unemployment insurance applications, job search, application and resume-writing services.

"Workers who have been laid off or experienced a significant change to their employment due to the coronavirus are encouraged to apply online for employment," Foshay said. "There's expanded eligibility and the state has changed some of the rules to try to get people access to benefits as quickly as possible."

The website to apply is uimn.org.

With President Donald Trump on Wednesday approving a spending package that includes provisions for paid sick leave, U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, said he expects Congress' next action to address the needs of small businesses. But he encouraged citizens to take action as well.

"Small businesses are the backbone of this economy, and as a member of the Small Business Committee, I remain focused on identifying ways in which we can assist them," Stauber said. "Let's try to make sure we can take care of our small-business men and women by ordering food if they have takeout, buying gift cards if they offer them, and also to order online if they have that in place."

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