Combining Forces to Help Southerners Weather the Pandemic

Foundations of all sizes are thinking creatively about ways to address the staggering implications of the COVID-19 crisis through our nonprofit partners. For the Babcock Foundation, an opportunity presented itself last month when our friends at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation invited us to submit a simple application for a $4 million “expenditure responsibility grant” to redeploy to organizations providing frontline humanitarian aid across the South. The funding is part of RWJF’s $50 million commitment to addressing the pandemic. 

On the surface, our philanthropic institutions couldn’t be much more different. With almost $11 billion in total assets, RWJF dwarfs the Babcock Foundation’s $200 million. RWJF is the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted solely to health. MRBF focuses on social and economic justice in 11 Southern states. But this collaboration – and really, the pandemic itself – highlight the considerable overlaps of health and poverty, of morbidity and zip code, of disparity and injustice. 

With a high concentration of poverty and inadequate health care coverage, Southern places, particularly communities of color, are especially vulnerable to the pandemic’s harms. Few states chose to expand Medicaid, so the region suffers disproportionately from lack of health coverage and many rural hospitals have closed. Much of the population lives in food or banking deserts where healthful food and nonpredatory financial services can be hard to come by. Few states have significant worker protections or minimum wages above the federally mandated minimum of $7.25. Union busting and exploitative tax incentives encourage corporations to establish facilities in the region, polluting communities while extracting their wealth and resources. Several analyses have found higher incidences of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality in areas of high pollution and poverty, and astronomical rates in black, Latinx and Native communities. 

To streamline the regranting process, we tapped into our network of longstanding, trusting relationships. Minimal due diligence and reporting requirements means these partners can spend less time on paperwork and more time addressing the immediate, critical needs their communities are facing. We took RWJF’s parameters and applied a few of our own, racial equity in particular, and prioritized organizations serving at least two of the following: undocumented immigrants, communities of color, rural communities, low-wealth families, uninsured families and workers who have lost jobs due to the pandemic. Because we understand the disparate impacts on communities of color are a result of centuries of harmful policies, we sought to direct some of the funds to organizations combining direct COVID relief with civic engagement efforts. We also assessed which places in our footprint are suffering most, namely, Louisiana and Georgia. And we chose to support regional efforts to expand the geographic scope of these dollars. These considerations led us to two kinds of initiatives we believe are best positioned to mitigate this catastrophe:

Community development financial institutions

All the CDFIs in our portfolio are restructuring, forgiving or deferring tens of thousands of home and business loans for borrowers who find themselves out of work and at risk of losing their businesses, homes, health care or income. Many of them are also tailoring assistance to the communities they serve. 

  • Communities Unlimited is coordinating the sale and delivery of fruit and vegetables from black farmers to food pantries in a seven-state region that includes the Mississippi Delta. This is a lifeline for the low-wealth families who rely on the pantries, which are running low on fresh produce, and for the farmers, who are at risk of losing their land if they miss an entire growing season due to lack of business from restaurants, school systems and farmers markets. CU also is helping to keep childcare centers from closing.
  • CommunityWorks Carolina has created a COVID-related emergency consumer loan product with a savings component. CWC also is working to help South Carolina nonprofits stay afloat.
  • Hope Enterprise Corporation also has started a consumer loan product tied to savings, aimed at meeting borrowers’ basic needs in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. 
  • The Latino Community Development Center in North Carolina, working with the Latino Community Credit Union, has created "emergency solidarity loans” for immigrants who have lost jobs and may be ineligible for federal assistance programs. Its membership is 93 percent Latino and 80 percent low wealth.
  • Self-Help is working with CWC on its loan product and has launched a separate fund to help struggling borrowers stay in their homes in North and South Carolina. 

Place-based COVID response funds

Nonprofit organizations and community foundations are providing lifelines to people and families without stable housing, workers who may not qualify for stimulus checks and immigrants who are unlikely to receive support from state or federal government programs. 


  • The Foundation for the Mid-South has launched a fund to support nonprofits providing communities with basic needs as well as equitable recovery work in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. 
  • The Southern Black Girls’ and Women’s Consortium Relief Fund is making grants to organizations mitigating pandemic-related economic distress in 12 states across the Deep South. The fund is also providing domestic violence survivors with disposable phones, access to computers and internet service and stipends for survivors to maintain their homes or seek shelter. This is a collaboration of the Appalachian Community Fund, the Fund for Southern Communities, TruthSpeaks Consulting and the Black Belt Community Foundation, which houses the fund. 
  • Stay Together Appalachian Youth is focused on supporting LGBTQ people, people with health challenges and people of color under 30 in the Appalachian regions of six Southern states. (Fiscal sponsor: Highlander Research and Education Center)


  • The Black Belt Community Foundation is supporting nonprofit organizations in the state’s Black Belt region addressing immediate needs. This includes personal protective equipment for people working in potentially dangerous environments. 
  • ¡HICA! is helping immigrant families with food, housing and utilities and other basics. ¡HICA! also is providing loans to members. 


  • Athens Land Trust is helping families cover mortgage, rent and utility payments as well as other basic needs in the Athens area. 
  • The Latino Community Fund is providing emergency assistance for immigrant and refugee families in crisis in five counties in partnership with community organizations distributing food and providing rent and other financial assistance. LCF also is working with partner groups to provide free, confidential COVID testing.
  • New American Pathways is helping thousands of refugee families in Metro Atlanta stay in their homes with food and functioning utilities. With schools closing and shifting to virtual learning, NAP is helping families with food and technology needs, including laptops and internet access. 


  • The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky is providing small grants and interest-free loans to businesses affected by the pandemic. Its partner organizations are regranting funds to support direct services and basic needs.


  • The Foundation for Louisiana is helping grantees address emerging needs such as lost wages, childcare expenses, medical expenses, bail funds, adequate medical care and protections for incarcerated individuals, and unanticipated expenses. It also is funding efforts to ensure an equitable recovery from the pandemic. 
  • The Greater New Orleans Foundation is directing resources to families whose wages depend on the service industry.
  • The New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice is providing direct support to communities of color and families who may be ineligible for government stimulus funds. 

North Carolina 

  • The North Carolina Collaborative for Strong Latinx Communities is supporting nonprofits providing basic needs like rent, food and cash payments directly to families. (Fiscal sponsor: Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro)
  • The Just Florence Recovery Fund is supporting communities of color in rural Eastern North Carolina, many of whom are still recovering from Hurricane Florence in 2018. (Fiscal sponsor: Blueprint NC)
  • We Are Down Home North Carolina has launched a mutual aid fund to help rural, low-wealth families and communities of color in the central and western parts of the state cover basic expenses. Down Home also is offering part-time employment to some of its members affected by the economic downturn. (Fiscal sponsor: Alliance for a Just Society)
  • Siembra NC has launched an immigrant solidarity fund to provide direct support to families in the central and western parts of the state who may not be eligible for government stimulus programs. (Fiscal sponsor: Mijente Support Committee)

South Carolina 

  • The Coastal Community Foundation is supporting organizations in nine counties in the Lowcountry serving priority groups, including senior citizens, children, health-compromised and workers in the hospitality and tourism industries.


  • The Family Crisis Fund of Greater Richmond is providing immediate financial relief directly to families who have lost income due to the pandemic. This is a collaboration between the Robins Foundation and the City of Richmond, and the fund is housed at the Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond.
  • The Sacred Heart Center is providing laptops, internet support and technical assistance to Latinx families with children learning remotely. It is expanding its food pantry hours due to a significant increase in demand. Sacred Heart is connecting families with resources and helping them pay rent and utilities. 

West Virginia

COVID testing in GeorgiaBy no means is this a definitive list of the organizations going above and beyond their everyday work to protect families from the very worst effects of this catastrophe. And our response to the pandemic will continue and evolve, likely for years to come. While we are still addressing the immediate crisis, it is critical to build power and public support for better policies and systems so future crises don’t devastate entire communities. As RWJF President and CEO Dr. Richard Besser recently wrote in the Washington Post, “Our nation’s predicament today is both tragic, because so many people will likely suffer, and maddening, because it didn’t have to be this way. In the short term, the United States must play the hand that we’ve dealt ourselves. Indeed, there are no short-term solutions to our long-term neglects. The underlying work our nation must do to ensure all people in the United States have a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being — sick leave, universal health care, quality childcare and early education, as well as fair immigration policies — must be done in moments of calm.”

We are grateful to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its trust, generosity, advocacy for health equity and attention to the South. Our hope is philanthropic collaborations like this will become more common, one potential silver lining of this awful storm. And we are especially grateful to the people and organizations lifting up the workers, small businesses and families too often excluded from our public policies’ circle of concern. This is our opportunity to expand the circle and not only deal a new hand, but stop playing games with people’s lives altogether. 





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