Why an awful year made us better

In 2020, as the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 ripped through our state and world, the lives of people who usually help others were turned upside down. Jobs, eliminated. Services, cut. Communities divided on how to move forward.

Cora Ablowaluk, Teller city clerk, distributed household cleaning supplies flown into the community through the Alaska PPE Resource Links Project the Foundation created with the State of Alaska, the University of Alaska Anchorage and nonprofits.

Everyone’s normal was uprooted, and our Rasmuson Foundation team was in it with you as we reshaped our philanthropy on the fly. Though we couldn’t be together, we came together. What needs were most critical? Who needed help fast? Collaboration was key. Our staff members zoomed into meetings and jumped on statewide calls with food banks and homeless shelters, libraries and faith communities. We talked with state commissioners and nonprofit CEOs, Rotary Club officers and community fund organizers. We reached out to Alaska funding partners — The Alaska Community Foundation, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Atwood Foundation, Denali Commission, Mat-Su Health Foundation, Bethel Community Services Foundation, Bristol Bay Education Foundation, Sealaska and United Way of Anchorage, among others. Building on lessons learned in 2018 after the 7.1 earthquake, funders coordinated who would help where.

In spring 2020, our board agreed to create a $2 million COVID-19 response fund. Early on, we directed support to childcare, so that first responders and other essential workers with children could do their jobs. We awarded technology grants, to help nonprofits and tribal organizations work remotely.

We heard from an elder care home, domestic violence shelters and the Municipality of Anchorage that personal protective equipment from masks to cleaning supplies to gloves were in short supply. Working with the State of Alaska, the University of Alaska Anchorage and nonprofit partners, we created the Alaska PPE Resource Links Project to assess needs, leverage funds and create systems for storage and distribution of PPE all over Alaska. Anchorage-based Christian Health Associates — with experience in international medical missions —stepped up to be our partner, without really knowing what it was signing up for. With partners Denali Commission, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the State of Alaska’s CARES Act infusion, almost $1.2 million was committed to the work. Cleaning kits have gone out to 2,100 households in 32 remote villages without running water. Some 195 frontline service providers serving 20,000 Alaskans a month have received PPE supplies. Now the work is shifting to bring portable sanitation systems to Alaska households without running water.

In Juneau, the Rookery Café was among a number of restaurants that fed people in need with the help of CARES Act dollars that flowed through the Nonprofit Coronavirus Relief Fund. (Photo by Ben Huff)

We redirected funds from projects that couldn’t happen to newly identified needs. Venues were closed and performances were canceled, but artists still had to pay rent, so we offered small need-based awards. We normally concentrate on capital projects but connected with organizations that serve those who face inequities and saw they needed operational support.

Meanwhile, we had to change, too. Rasmuson Foundation’s assets were impacted by the economic downturn. So we froze hiring and paused routine grantmaking. We, like so many of you, adopted new technologies to work at home.

Rasmuson Foundation team members Carmen Goodwin and Samona Norombaba help pack up personal protective equipment at the Christian Health Associates warehouse to send to service providers in need.

What do we take away from the pain, uncertainty and upheaval of the pandemic? With everyone’s newfound expertise in virtual meetings, we can keep bringing voices to the table from all over Alaska and indeed the country. We wouldn’t have wished 2020 on anyone. But through it, we will be better connected than we have ever been, to do as our founders wanted and promote a better life for all Alaskans.

Jerimiah Grantham and Dave Kuiper of Christian Health Associates usually work on international medical missions. The organization turned almost its entire warehouse over to the Foundation’s PPE supply project in 2020.

Our focus areas

Rasmuson Foundation committed more than $2 million to respond to the fast-changing crisis needs of the pandemic. The majority came from a special response fund approved by our board. We also redirected existing funds to COVID-19 projects. Significant funds were directed to:

Childcare

Emergency childcare for first responders and essential workers and support for childcare programs.

Investment $100,00

Grantees Camp Fire Alaska and thread Alaska.

Technology

Laptops, iPads, digital platforms and other technology for online work, school and gatherings.

Investment $229,900

Grantees Kuspuk and Kashunamiut school districts, Alaska Native Heritage Center, Koahnic Broadcast Corp. and 20 other nonprofits.

Homelessness Services

Temporary shelters. Navigators to help people find a permanent home. Mini-grants for rural Alaska organizations.

Investment $473,000

Grantees Catholic Social Services, Bean’s Café, AWAIC and Alaska Coalition for Housing & Homelessness.

Arts and Culture

Support for arts and culture organizations and individual artists.

Investment $647,102

Grantees 13 local governments to match CARES Act funds for arts and culture groups. Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation to help 135 individual artists in 38 communities.

Opportunity To Help Alaskans

AK Can Do, the statewide, privately funded COVID-19 response effort operated by the United Way of Anchorage and The Alaska Community Foundation with Rasmuson Foundation support, benefited individuals and families as well as organizations providing critical services.

AK Can Do highlights:
  • 997 Alaska households in 51 communities: More than 3,200 people helped with rent, utilities and groceries.
  • 277 organizations including food pantries, counseling centers and youth services received support.
  • $3.4 million in donations from corporations, foundations and individuals.
  • Rasmuson Foundation invested $410,000 for direct grants and $123,500 for operational expenses and marketing.
  • Partners in distribution: Copper River Native Association, Fairbanks Community Food Bank, Food Bank of Alaska, Kawerak, Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, Lutheran Social Services, Maniilaq, The Salvation Army, Southeast Alaska Food Bank, Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority, Tundra Women’s Coalition, United Way of Anchorage, Utqiaġvik Presbyterian Church, and community foundations in Bethel, Chugiak, Cordova, Fairbanks, Haines, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Palmer, Petersburg, Seward, Sitka, and Talkeetna.
  • Other major donors: Alaska Airlines, The Alaska Community Foundation, Alaska National: a CopperPoint Insurance Company, ConocoPhillips Alaska, Deam Family Charitable Gift Fund, Doyon Ltd., ExxonMobil, FitzWilliams, GCI, KeyBank Foundation, Larry and Patricia Koch, Herbert Lang family, Lloyd Miller and Heather Kendall-Miller, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Katherine O’Grady, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, Jim and Susan Reeves Fund, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Rotary District 5010, Ruud-Mjos Tributaries of Alaska Family Fund, Saltchuk, Sealaska, Spawn Ideas, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Swanson Family Foundation, Heather Tauschek and John Evans, United Way of Anchorage, United Way Worldwide, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Wells Fargo, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and 3M.

Unique Partnership

With our support, the Alaska Nonprofit Coronavirus Relief Fund was created as a partnership between the State of Alaska and The Alaska Community Foundation to carve out Alaska CARES Act federal dollars for nonprofits and hospitals.

The goal: A funder-led effort to fill the gaps.

Highlights:
  • $47 million in relief.
  • 256 organizations awarded grants. United Way organizations partnered with local restaurants to buy meals for shelters and other programs. Hospitals received support for telehealth, personal protective equipment and other expenses.
  • Rasmuson Foundation dedicated staff to help support applicants.