Kim R. Ford, executive director of Martha’s Table, works with staff and volunteers handing out bags of food in front of their office in southeast D.C. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Kim R. Ford, executive director of Martha’s Table, works with staff and volunteers handing out bags of food in front of their office in southeast D.C. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t spared the District’s nonprofit sector, but many charity leaders have taken measures to help their organizations stay afloat amid the economic strain.

A June survey by the Charities Aid Foundation of America found that nearly one-third of nonprofits nationwide could shutter during the pandemic for financial reasons. Glen O’Gilvie, CEO of the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, said he wants to make sure that doesn’t happen in the District.

“We want an end to the pandemic for all, but if that end is realized without a third of our nonprofits, poor people are going to be challenged at even greater risks and numbers than they’ve been in the past and for a longer period of time,” O’Gilvie said, the Washington Business Journal reported July 31.

The District’s nonprofit sector constitutes 12,367 operations employing 118,100 people, or 26 percent of the city’s workforce, according to a survey, “Nonprofit Sector in the District of Columbia,” published by Independent Sector in October 2016. The sector generates almost $48 billion in revenue, donates $417 billion in funds and services and District residents give $894 million, the survey said.

However, O’Gilvie told The Informer that since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, his organization has received queries from numerous nonprofits about a variety of challenges they now face, with some having to dig deep to finance items as personal protective equipment and technology for staff such as laptops or computers.

Being away from the office has forced some nonprofits to change the way they operate, he said.

“Not being in an office tends to breakdown morale and camaraderie in an office,” O’Gilvie said. “Nonprofits have to find a way to keep morale going and have their staff work in teams even when they aren’t together in person.”

Such concerns are also on the mind of Kim R. Ford, president and CEO of Martha’s Table in Ward 8, but she told The Informer her organization has been proactive in executing her mission.

“Martha’s Table stepped up,” Ford said. “Before the pandemic we distributed 500 bags of food a day and now we are giving out 2,000 bags. We served 100 hot meals a day before the pandemic and we now serve 200 daily. We recently started a program where we give cash assistance to qualified families. Plus, we are giving away grocery gift cards to people.

“The need has really grown since the pandemic started with people’s hours being cut at work and some losing their jobs outright,” she said. “People are struggling to keep their homes and feed their families. I must admit we didn’t budget for this and nothing about COVID-19 has been easy.”

While Martha’s Table gives out food daily, Project Giveback, a food distribution program founded by Ransom Miller III, occurs during the Thanksgiving holiday season for one day. Hundreds of volunteers from schools, fraternal organizations and youth groups gather at a designated site that day to put together hundreds of food bags and to deliver them to families throughout the D.C. metropolitan area.

Miller said his food assembly and delivery will have to make some major adjustments due to COVID-19.

“Last year we were in the D.C. Armory but this year we plan to be outside in the Armory’s parking lot,” he said. “We will have huge tents to protect our volunteers from bad weather if it occurs. Our leaders will be tested for the coronavirus one week before the event takes place and anyone who tests positive will not be able to participate. On the day of the distribution, we will have volunteers at different entry points checking people’s temperatures. If your temperature is too high, you will not be allowed to participate.

“Also, we’ll implement social distancing protocols with volunteers working six feet apart,” Miller said. “We want to make sure that everyone is safe that day and no one gets sick.”

Both Ford and Miller said fundraising hasn’t been an issue at this point, though Ford added that could change if a vaccine doesn’t emerge by the end of the year.

“Donors are in the mindset right now to give but if this pandemic drags on, especially if there is no end in sight, we may experience some donors reluctant to donate more money and that will hurt our neediest people,” she said.

Miller said he expects Walmart and Amazon to continue their support for Project Giveback, but getting personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and face shields for volunteers will be an additional expense for his organization.

O’Gilvie said he is aware of the economic stress the pandemic has put on charities and has advice for its leaders.

“I encourage leaders to listen to their constituents, team members and board members during this time,” he said. “Leaders need to be transparent in a decisive way and we at the Nonprofit Center are here to help if we are needed.”

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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