Helping the Helpers when Disaster Strikes

Apr 25, 2021 · By Dorothy Tecklenburg

Canonsburg General Hospital Jones Addie

Addie Jones of Canonsburg Hospital shows off facial protective gear acquired by the hospital with the CTH grant.

There are instances when the timing is nothing short of amazing. When things align so perfectly, you wonder if divine intervention may have been a factor. That’s how many looked upon the beginnings of the Washington County Community Foundation’s Close to Home Disaster and Emergency Fund.

WCCF President and CEO Betsie Trew started working on this fund BC – Before COVID. Unexpected disaster can strike any community - a flood, a tornado, a crippling snowstorm. Agencies meeting the needs of the community can be taxed beyond their ability to help with the disaster while continuing to provide the services they normally offer. The Foundation wanted to prepare to support the community during the unexpected. Ready for the date the Fund was brought on line? March 17, 2020, a day when “lockdown” became part of our everyday vocabulary.

"When 2020 began we thought it would be a year-long celebration of our 25th anniversary,” Betsie remembered. “Instead, it became a year-long testament of how vital a community foundation is to the well-being of the community it serves.”

The day the Fund was up and running, it was out and helping. Immediate grants went to Washington City Mission, the Salvation Army and the Greater Washington County Food Bank, all of which spring to action during any emergency.

“Food lines quickly grew long during COVID,” said Connie S. Burd, Executive Director, Greater Washington County Food Bank, “but the Close to Home Fund insured that no one in Washington County was sent away without food.”

But as the weeks turned into months, unique needs began to emerge, needs we now know all too well. The Fund continued to support the community in crisis. Each school district in Washington County received $5,000 for educational tools, something that only a few months earlier would not have qualified under disaster relief.

Grants of $30,000 to Washington Health System, Monongahela Valley Hospital Foundation, and Allegheny Health Network-Canonsburg General Hospital went for protective gear. Louis J. Panza Jr. , President and CEO, Monongahela Valley Hospital, acknowledged how important those grants were.

“We are very grateful to the Washington County Community Foundation for providing a generous gift to Monongahela Valley Hospital from the Close to Home Fund. We used the funds to purchase personal protective equipment for our frontline personnel so they could provide the highest level of safe care to our patients.”

Salvation Army Love In A Backpack

The Washington Salvation Army provided 32,000 bags of food for families in need through the "Love in a Backpack" program in 2020, supported in part by a CTH grant.

As we all lived through this pandemic, we learned some unpleasant truths. During a disaster, abused women and children can be forced to stay with their abusers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A grant to Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania gave women a much-needed option. “The Close to Home Disaster Relief Fund provided critical support for our agency during the pandemic,” said DVSSP CEO Lisa Hannum. “As increased stress and isolation have wreaked havoc on our communities, we have seen an increase in domestic violence incidents around the world. This funding has helped DVSSP keep our doors open to anyone facing an abusive situation at home.”

The Community Foundation might distribute the grants, but there would be no funds without generous donors. Dr. Wayne and Cindy Pfrimmer supported this community effort to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

“We believe any one of us could be in need of help in some way at any time in our lives,” remarked the Pfrimmers. “Sharing with neighbors is what God has laid on our hearts. In a profound sense, we are all neighbors, whether close to home or across the world. The WCCF knows where the greatest current needs are, so giving through this trusted organization makes sense to us.”

Divine intervention or just incredibly good luck? Whichever it was, the WCCF, along with so many other local service agencies, helped the helpers when the unimaginable happened.