WORDS: Kara Chalmers
Every Tuesday, outside the JCPenney end of the DeSoto Square Mall, Feeding Tampa Bay’s Mobile Pantry gives nearly 2000 Manatee County residents food. The organization sets up from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. or until the food runs out.
“Some recipients aren’t people who needed food six months ago,” said Ava Ehde, Director of Manatee County’s Neighborhood Services Department (NSD). Ehde, who, with members of her team, volunteers her time to help distribute the food, noted that a significant number of people in line each Tuesday had lost income because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They are people in such great need and are so humbled by that need.”
Luckily, Feeding Tampa Bay was a recipient of federal CARES Act funds, which helped pay for additional food, trucks, and drivers needed since the pandemic started. It was Ehde’s department that approved applications for the funds from Feeding Tampa Bay, as well as from many other nonprofit agencies that serve county residents.
“I truly believe this funding is going to help our residents recover, and I’m really grateful,” Ehde said.
The federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, in response to the economic devastation the pandemic has caused. The act will distribute $2.2 trillion throughout the U.S. Manatee County received $70 million of this, which is divided into four categories, including Economic Recovery, Public Health and Safety, and Government and Community Facilities. Deputy County Administrator Karen Stewart has been the lead for all the CARES Act efforts by the county.
“She’s an extraordinary project manager, and she works in concert with our County Administrator Cheri Coryea. Cheri is the most can-do person you will ever meet,” Ehde said.
The fourth category is Community Health and Well-Being, and the Neighborhood Services Department, led by Ehde, was charged with reviewing applications and contract management for eligible programs provided by local nonprofits designed to help residents recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have the expertise to know what the needs are in the community,” Ehde said of her department. “It’s the right fit.
In addition to their regular duties, the department members have been working around the clock reviewing grant requests and developing agreements and payment reimbursement strategies.
“We’re small but mighty,” Ehde said of her team. “We’re a very collaborative team, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work they do daily.”
Elaine Maholtz, the overall project manager for the Community Health and Well-Being CARES Act funding, along with Susan Ford, Kalee Shaberts, and Debbie Carpenter have been the ones wrestling with all the decisions, software, constant revisions to the act itself, as well as eligibility, program alignment, reviews, and contract management, according to Ehde.
“Elaine has truly been a trooper despite an ever-changing project, taking on this very large undertaking with short deadlines and a big learning curve,” Ehde said.
She added that all staffers working on CARES Act matters (see their names below) have been amazing about figuring out how to develop contracts for a brand-new project, on the fly. Additionally, many other county staffers are working diligently in the areas of Public Health and Safety, Economic Recovery and Government, and Community Facilities.
Eligible 501c3 and 501c6 nonprofits must serve Manatee County residents in response to the pandemic, even if the organization itself is home-based or based in a nearby county. The organizations must adhere to federal and state orders, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, to combat the spread of the virus, protect citizens, and help them recover.
Specifically, the funds can cover the costs of:
At time of publication, the Neighborhood Services Department has approved 157 applications totaling more than $4.4 million and has already dispersed $17,083. It will consider up to 500 applications in all, on a first-come, first-served basis, before the deadline of December 4, 2020.
The application process has been paused to allow Stewart and the county’s Fiscal Management Department Manager Jan Brewer to crunch the numbers to ensure they don’t over-commit funds.
The agencies that the NSD has helped – and hopes to help – are diverse, which makes reviewing their requests for funds challenging, Ehde said. Also, each agency can ask for money for up to three different types of programs: a one-time payout of $5,000 for PPE; money to expand existing – or create new – testing, communications, training, and remote learning programs; or money to help with recovery, whether that means helping residents pay delinquent rent, mortgage or utility bills, or pay for food or child care.
One organization that’s benefitted from the funding is Bring on the Ministry. A small nonprofit based out of the home of founder Melinda Zarzycki-Harris, who passes out masks along with the water, food, rain ponchos, hygiene products (and even showers via a mobile shower trailer) that she gives to homeless people.
Another is The Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County.
“We have worked closely with the Manatee County Neighborhood Services Department for many years on the funding we receive annually from the Children’s Services Advisory Board,” said Paul Sharff, the coalition’s Chief Executive Officer. “They are an extremely talented and dedicated group of people who work tirelessly to assist nonprofits in implementing the programs that support so many families and children in our local communities.”
According to Mr. Sharff, in recent weeks, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NSD has once again stepped up.
“They’ve worked so hard to ensure that the CARES Act funding is getting out into Manatee County as quickly as possible as we all come together to fight this health crisis. Everyone at ELC truly appreciates what they do, and we can’t thank them enough.”
For more information, visit the “Manatee Cares grants and funding” link on mymanatee.org.