The call just went out on Monday, March 22. That’s the day the United Way of Ellis County announced the creation of the COVID-19 Emergency Relief fund "for the prevention, education, or mitigation of the economic fallout" of the virus.


By Wednesday, March 25, online donations of $650 had been received from three donors, said Erica Berges, United Way executive director. The organization is matching the first $2,500 raised.


That means, after two days, the fund stood at $1,300. Berges also said she had received one application for one of the "mini-grants" to be awarded. As she receives applications, she is forwarding them to the selection committee, comprised of three to four United Way board members.


She said 100% of the funds received would stay in Ellis County. The money is not just for the 18 agencies the United Way normally funds, she emphasized. Any non-profit group in the county — including charities, ministries, churches, nursing homes, etc. — may apply for one of the mini-grants.


The maximum mini-grant per organization is $500, she said, at least for now.


Repeat grants will depend on how long the virus’ impact is felt, she said. "For now, these are one-time mini-grants because we want to help as many groups as we can."


The funds may be used for such things as rent assistance, utility payments, restocking of food pantries, purchase of gasoline, meals delivered to the elderly, medical supplies for nonprofit nursing homes or health care clinics — and those are just a few examples.


Bill Oyet, United Way administrative assistant, said, "The fund will best be used for prevention," rather than crisis situations.


The application form states the group seeking the funds must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, it must be in good standing with the State of Kansas, and the majority of the clients its serves must be from Ellis County.


Applications are available online at www.liveunited.us/covid-19. After applications are filled out, they need to be emailed to Berges at uweced@ruraltel.net. Questions may be directed to Berges at 785-628-8281.


She said there is no specific timeline on when the first mini-grants will be awarded.


"We are going to let the fund build a little before we start awarding them," Berges said. "There are needs right away, and there will be long-term needs ... This will be going on for as long as the need is there."


The relief fund is a project that a number of United Ways across the country are doing. Each United Way is looking at the specific needs of its community, Berges said. While this is a first-time effort by the United Way of Ellis County, other United Ways have launched such relief funds in the past.


"This community has a history of being a very giving community. Volunteer opportunities currently are being restricted" because of social distancing requirements, she said. "Donating to this fund is a way that people can still help those in need, even if they can’t donate their time."


Donations may be made online at the above website or may be mailed to United Way of Ellis County, P.O. Box 367, Hays, KS 67601. Donors are asked to put COVID-19 in the check’s memo line.


Oyet said, "This virus is testing the strength and integrity of communities across the nation. We will all have to make sacrifices. We (at the United Way) want to provide resources to help our community to recover faster."