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Critical need fund over $2 million and growing

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Brian Collier

Brian Collier

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In Mecklenburg County, 12 percent of families live in poverty, and 5,000 to 8,000 people are homeless, including 2,500 students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, up 13 percent from 2007.

Applications for food stamps grew 16 percent from June to December 2008, and more people applied for them Jan. 5 than in all of December.

That day, the county department of social services served 1,000 people, compared to 350 on a typical day last year.

Working to address growing demand for health and human services fueled by deepening economic problems is the Critical Need Response Fund, a collaborative effort among The Leon Levine Foundation, Mecklenburg Ministries, Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Central Carolinas and Foundation for the Carolinas.

Launched Dec. 2 with a $1 million gift from the Levine Foundation, the fundraising effort is being spearheaded by Foundation for the Carolinas.

The effort has raised $2.7 million, including over $100,000 from Duke Energy; $100,000 each from Belk, Bank of America, Foundation for the Carolinas, Nucor and Wachovia; $50,000 each from Goodrich and Piedmont Natural Gas; $25,000 from Fifth Third Bank; and nearly $74,000 from the Carolina Panthers representing $1 for each fan at Jan. 10 playoff game, as well as smaller gifts.

An envelope the fund received, for example, contained cash from three siblings, including $1 from a four-year-old, $2 from a seven-year-old and $9.25 from a nine-year-old, plus a letter from their mother.

“It’s great that we have all these large donations, and it certainly helps, but we have had tremendous response from everyday, ordinary citizens in the community, from kids and families to people who have been inspired by the Levine gift,” says Brian Collier, senior vice president of community philanthropy at Foundation for the Carolinas.

“This has truly been a community-wide fundraising effort,” he says.

The Mecklenburg fund has awarded 44 grants totaling over $2.1 million to 33 agencies and ranging from $4,000 to $432,225.

The foundation is charging no administrative fee to coordinate the fund, including fundraising and grantmaking, so all of the money raised is going to support local agencies, Collier says.

Most of the funds raised and grants awarded have been in Mecklenburg County, although similar funds have been created through affiliates of Foundation for the Carolinas in Cabarrus County and in the Lexington area in North Carolina, and in Lancaster and Cherokee counties in South Carolina.

To qualify, agencies must provide services related to shelter, food and clothing, must be seeing an increase in demand above what they normally would see this time of year, and must have the ability and capacity to respond to the increased demand, Collier says.

“What we’re looking to accomplish with this fund,” he says, “is to help people find shelter and be fed and clothed during the winter months.”

The final deadline for submitting grant applications is Feb. 26.

“We need really good organizations to be aware of the fund and, if they meet the criteria, to apply,” Collier says. “The response from the community has been tremendous, and we’d love to see equally tremendous response from the nonprofit community.”

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