Appalachia is a cultural region in the U.S. that encompasses parts of 13 states and has a population of approximately 25 million people. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, Appalachia’s poverty rate is higher than the national average and has seen both increases and decreases in certain areas of the region over the past decade.
Athens County is one of 32 counties in Ohio that is designated Appalachian. In nearby Nelsonville, the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, or FAO, 35 Public Square, has launched an emergency response fund for regional nonprofits in need.
The FAO is a regional community foundation that supports economic growth through philanthropy, Megan Wanczyk, vice president of communications and programming at FAO, said. Its Appalachian Ohio Emergency Response Fund provides grant award resources available to a wide variety of nonprofits that are under financial strain during these times.
Regionally, Appalachia sees a lower rate of philanthropic donations, Wanczyk said.
“(The FAO) were started because there was a striking philanthropy gap in our region per capita,” Wanczyk said. “There's a ninefold (difference in our) region.”
A large philanthropy gap indicates a gap in equality as well, like educational opportunities to crisis response time, Wanczyk said. With its emergency response fund, the FAO is helping a wide variety of local nonprofits, from hospitals to food pantries.
“(We’re including) an intentionally broad, wide breadth of needs,” Wanczyk said. “We’ll see those needs increasing and changing over time, too.”
One local organization that has received an FAO grant is Community Food Initiatives, 94 Columbus Rd. Community Food Initiatives, or CFI, is a nonprofit organization that helps foster access to locally produced food, MaryAnn Martinez, executive director of CFI, said.
Food access is a pressing issue in Appalachia. According to a 2017 Feeding America survey, Athens County is the most food-insecure county in Ohio. Nearby Appalachian Ohio counties, such as Vinton and Meigs, rank high in food insecurity as well.
For Martinez, CFI’s involvement in the local food system is crucial right now. Not only does CFI aid in food access, but it also supports local farmers by buying their products.
“(We’re) not just feeding people,” Martinez said. “We’re supporting (our) local food economy with no gap in services.”
Martinez said local food pantries are able to keep a wider variety of food as well as fresh food through CFI’s work. Martinez also said CFI is making local food more accessible to those who cannot always make it to the Athens Farmers Market.
CFI also works in educating local children in growing their own foods and provides seeds and information packets for people to start their own gardens. But when the pandemic hit, CFI canceled or modified most of its school food programs, Martinez said. CFI has shifted to online learning.
“It’s not the same because (gardening) is really hands-on,” Martinez said.
CFI’s food access work has continued, though, Martinez said. CFI is working to distribute local food with no direct contact to its receivers. CFI’s work is made possible through donations like grants it received from the FAO. Generous donations have continued CFI’s work into April, Martinez said, but she isn’t sure if CFI will have the resources it needs come summer for its usual summer programming.
For Wanczyk, the FAO does the important task of addressing the ever-changing needs of people in the region. There are needs and gaps in resources that must be kept up with, especially during times of uncertainty, such as the pandemic. The FAO relies on donations to maintain its impact.
“As more gifts come to fund, we’ll be able to reach more and more organizations,” Wanczyk said. “For folks looking for what they can do — gifts of all sizes are going to make a great difference.”
Another recipient of grant funding from the FAO was Hocking Valley Community Hospital, 601 OH-664 N, Logan. The hospital is grateful to the FAO for its support during these times of uncertainty, Latricia Johnston, chief public relations officer at Hocking Valley Community Hospital, or HVCH, said in an email.
“Funds were requested to assist with build out in our Emergency Department in preparation for COVID surge,” Johnston said in an email. “Additionally, funds were needed to provide COVID-19 staff training, and purchasing hand sanitizer dispensers due to the difficulty of securing hand sanitizer for our current dispensers.”
For HVCH Emergency Department Director Michelle Matheny, with the help of the FAO grant, the hospital will be able to construct a negative pressure room in its Emergency Department. Negative pressure rooms help keep staff and patients safe from the virus during the pandemic.
“Negative room pressure is a type of isolation technique used in hospitals to prevent cross-contamination,” Matheny said in an email. “It allows ventilation that produces a negative pressure, which allows air to flow into the isolation room, but not escape.”
Grant awards are being reviewed and issued on a rolling basis, Wanczyk said. The next round of grant receivers should be announced sometime next week.
Wanczyk said grants cannot be received by individuals, only nonprofit organizations. But individuals in need are welcome to check out the FAO website for additional information.